Navine G. Khan-Dossos is an artist who has had a rigorous education in the traditional Islamic arts. She was born, and grew up, in London. After beginning with the study of the History of Art at Cambridge University, she studied Arabic at Kuwait University, and then Islamic Art at the Prince’s School of Traditional Art in London. Khan-Dossos then took this knowledge and explored it in more experimental ways through a Master of Fine Arts at the Chelsea College of Art and Design. Her resulting art practice has a solid grounding in principles that originate from traditional Islamic painting. Aniconism, the omittance of figurative representations of sentient beings, is central to this philosophy. The elaborate patterns and symmetrical designs of this practice enmesh with patterns found in algorithmic processes that drive today’s media. By combining the two approaches, Khan-Dossos interweaves Islam and the West in subtle, non-figurative ways, striving to create a new language that engages with the ongoing issues between the two cultures in inventive ways.
Khan-Dossos’ past work has featured elaborate details, often at a large scale. She paints using gouache and egg tempera, a medium used in religious frescos for centuries, avoiding the more recent lineage of oil painting in the West as a reference point. A recent series of works, Expanding and Remaining (2016) takes on the topical subject of ISIS. Here, 36 A4 panels are displayed in a manner akin to books, or magazines in a specialist bookshop. We learn that these brightly coloured, abstract configurations of circles, rectangles, and lines are derived from the magazine ISIS has since ceased publishing — Dabiq. Khan-Dossos took issue five of the magazine and stripped it of all content, leaving behind the graphic substructure that shapes its propaganda. The colours are transformed into heightened palettes of CMYK and RGB. These reference the magazine’s digitally designed origins and its existence as a PDF, and its transformation into printed matter made to be circulated in the age-old tradition of revolutionary pamphlets and calls to arms. The only reference to the original magazine observed in the paintings is the titles, which are taken from the articles. The magazine’s design template is no different from the average corporate publication, or even travel magazines. This banality is mixed with it’s frightening message in ways that are difficult to reconcile. Khan-Dossos’ treatment of this source material transforms it, forcing us to look at it from a different angle. She simultaneously references traditional Islamic arts and insidious Western graphic design templates—both have been twisted from their original contexts to fit ISIS’ purposes.
Naive G. Khan-Dossos has an upcoming solo show at Fridman Gallery, New York. The exhibition Infoesque will present works from Expanding and Remaining, alongside pieces based on ISIS’ new publication Rumiyah. The show will be up from 13 April to 13 May. Find out more here.
All images © Navine G. Khan-Dossos