Illustration + Motion Media

The Sublime within Islam

This project attempts at trying to explore the philosophical branch of Aesthetics within the context of the Islamic Artistic Expression. The exploration is perhaps an attempt at grasping my identity as it stems from a variety of experiences and influences I have had growing up in an Islamic environment in Abu Dhabi. Aesthetics deals with the theory of beauty, answering questions like "How does one perceive beauty?" or "What makes something beautiful?" The correlation of Islamic Artforms with the western philosophical idea of the Sublime is something that has not been attributed much in the past. I was encouraged to finally take a productive step towards this exploration while attending a class entitled, Analyzing Islamic Art and Architecture as part of my Graduate Program. This project consists of a research paper and a visual exploration of the same.

  • DateDecember 2018
  • Execution3 months
  • Conceptualization4 months
  • RolesDigital Illustration, Motion Design,
    Academic Research
  • ToolsIllustrator, Final Cut Pro
Festival Submission

Project Montage


A Problem of Identity, of Association

My formative years of education have been in the post 9/11 era where Islam has been in turmoil ever since. It has been 18 years since the disastrous event occured and the reprecussions of which are still evident today. Being singled out for practising one's own faith is against basic human morals.

I simply asked myself, what am I doing to help change this perception of Muslims in the modern world?
Why isn't the beauty within Islam being shown to the world? Thinking my immediate capabilities as a practitioner of design, I dwelled on this matter further and wondered, How can I use Design to change the perception of Muslims in the contemporary world?

My self-imposed prompt only served as a question that I try and mentally address everytime I started working on an aspect of this project. To think aesthetically pleasing artifacts can solve issues of perception is quite farfetched. The scale is much beyond the realms of design and requires a holistic, global effort.


Trying to re-live the Golden Age

The Golden Age of Islam was a period in history where various fields such as Art, Science, Philosophy flourished within the Islamic Caliphates. Economic development occured at a rampant rate and all in all there was an overall encouragement in the notion of seeking knowledge. It was during this time that there was a peak in the interest of developing the Art of Islam, the three notable elements of which are Calligraphy, the Arabesque and Geometric Patterns.

Being brought up in Abu Dhabi, the environment was such that I was constantly surrounded by these fascinating Islamic Geometric Patterns. Appreciative of how it always was so pleasing to the eyes but I never made an effort to delve into the finding the true essence of the same. There was something about this form of expression that always spoke to me.

What if we could relive this prosperous time in history and bring back the Golden Age of Islam?

What if we had something that reminded us of that glorious past? How could we visually represent this perfect time? Something that is so beautiful it fascinates us. The answer was always around me, staring right at me. Islamic Geometric Patterns are something so timeless that it has managed to survive millenia and still manages to capture the imagination of millions around the world, irrespective of cultural lines.


Attributing the Sublime to Abstraction

To go about this exploration I really wanted to be grounded in research. I wanted to know what went in the minds of the Artisans that were making these geometric patterns. Seeking help I contacted religious scholars and even the experts in the field of Islamic Philosophy. I ran into more dead ends as Islamic Philosophers never really spoke about Aesthetics as a philosophical branch.

One thing that I knew was that Islam was all about the Sublime. When I really dwelled upon Islamic Geometric Patterns, I found it's characteristics in accordance with what would be considered Sublime. It only made sense for me to attribute them together and strike comparisons. The following paper is the result which was done in a period of nearly two months and is currently under review by the Islamic Art Society of the United States in an effort to get published.

View Research Paper

An attempt to conceive the Inconceivable

I proceeded to then apply context to the research and visually explore each of the features that the Islamic Geometric Patterns represent. As much as I wanted to stick to the convention of compound shapes and tessellations, I felt the need to interpret them in a unique manner that was more reflective of the current age. I felt I needed to make them my own.

The visual styles I have used vary greatly amongst each example. It was me attempting to explore different ideas and trying to visually represent factors and focus on each of the individual characteristic that I discussed in my research paper. The first exploration consisted of attempting to illustrate still images of the Geometric Patterns. Apart from creating a singular unit of the pattern that existed within space, it also exists as an all-out, seamless pattern when focussed inwards at the central motif.

The second exploration involved incorporating motion onto these still patterns. The idea of making these patterns dynamic and constantly changing was something that was persistently lodged in my head.

There was scope to represent more subtleties when motion was factored in. Make it ever-changing in manner where every frame gives a slightly different interpretation of the initial pattern. The following videos were created in Illustrator, animated in After-Effects with the final treatment being done in Final Cut Pro X.

Please click below to view the rest of the visualizations along with the progress
View More

Now what?

I was persistent on trying to have a pragmatic application of these designs. They were aesthetically pleasing and had a symbolic connotation but I just had this feeling that this project was meant for more. These questions bogged my mind through out until I could figure out something.

I realized since this project stemmed from Islam, a religion that is grounded in being charitable as one of it's pillars - it needs to give back in some manner. I started to print out some of the still images on pieces of 24in x 24in steel. I used the material with the intention of having some of the metal shine through as a means of being able to reflect on yourself.

With the help of my friends I was able to search for interested buyers through Instagram. My friends helped me spread the idea because of which I got a lot of positive responses who were looking to purchase these pieces. I don't have any intentions of making money through this channel, so I would like to take the profits and donate it to local causes in Savannah that are in need of the same.

The still images were able to translate themselves into something useful. At this point, it was only logical for me to figure out an application of the animations as well. With an exhibition being an ask for my graduate review, I wanted to use them in a manner where people engaged with them physically.

With the help of some of my friends, I decided to test out utilizing projection mapping as a manner of representation. We sourced some cubes made of wood and then set up the mapping of the visualizations in a manner that made the cubes seem dynamic. We initially did a test run at a location that was open to the public. After witnessing the reactions it was getting from the visitors, I wanted to recitfy certain subtleties of the projections and eventually proceeded with doing a full exhibition of the same.

Exhibition Montage

My Process

The longest cycle of Trial and Error

The process for getting about making these patterns really started two years ago. It was when I found that I was genuinely interested in utlizing mandalas and patterns as background graphics for the posters that I had made while freelancing for music studios.

The initial attempts were just getting used to the idea of lines conforming to a singular shape. I tried playing with different line styles, trying out different strokes.. Sometimes I would add some color using the Live Paint tool on Illustrator. I even tried animating the pattern on After Effects getting it to scale up.

Initial Attempts

Once I started getting more familiar with technique, I played around further with the styles of the strokes. Adding as many strokes as possible was always a temptation but as I learnt, it might not always seem beautiful and failed to remain an integrated form. Adding complexity had to be in a subtle manner which didn't make it seem aggressive.

Intermediate Attempts

The still images looked incredible but trying to incorporate motion within them was something I was constantly experimenting with. I toyed around with them in After Effects initially trying to play with masks and trim paths. Adding movement to the patterns gave them a different dynamic and a unique manner of representation.

Process Shots from the Application

This is an ongoing exploration where I still try at making the research behind the same stronger and much more robust. I have been approached by Lazy Eight Design, an agency in India to incorporate the dynamic patterns in a solution that helps in alleviating stress for the current social media generation.

Apart from trying to get the research paper published I have been contacted by the Islamic Art Society with an interest to have them sold as physical art pieces. I started this project to rediscover my my identity and explore what I deem my culture but now, it has given me the confidence to overcome mental barriers that previously existed.

Progress Screenshots