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The Mashrabiya Project

MARCH 3 – JULY 23, 2023



Hoda Tawakol, Mashrabiya #5, from the “Idolatry” series, 2017. Wood. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Al-Sukkariya Ottoman House, Disaster Relief Project, Cairo, Egypt, 2012. Photo: Jarosław Dubrowolski, ARCHiNOS Architecture

The Mashrabiya Project is a community-focused, shared experience that links the heritage of the mashrabiya, a screening element with ancient origins, to responses in art and design that reflect considerations of space and seeing in contemporary life. At a time of global uncertainty, the Project—the first in the U.S. to examine the mashrabiya as both an architectural object and a locus of metaphor—presents an opportunity for dialogue and connection across cultural and geographic borders. With its artful geometry and elaborate perforated designs, the mashrabiya became a defining element of Islamic visual culture and ornament. The mashrabiya of North Africa—fabricated of wood, which can expand and contract in response to the region’s intense climate—are found in quotidian and sacred spaces alike. Comprised of thousands of simple, individually lathe-turned components, they are assembled without glue or fasteners to create large, scalable elements and furnishings that are complex and ornate in design. These serve many functions, from permitting screening and ventilation, to delineating spaces for public and private life, to separating male and female members of a household in accordance with purity laws. Bountiful in metaphorical evocations, particularly circulating around dualities of public and private; subject and viewer; denial and reclamation of space; and the porosity of boundaries, the mashrabiya is an enduring symbol both of Islam’s cultural heritage and of the perpetually evolving nature of religion in society.

The Project will comprise a number of programs circulating around the creation of a wood-turned mashrabiya in the Center’s public space.

Susan Hefuna, Knowledge Is Sweeter than Honey, 2013. Wood and black ink. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

A multidisciplinary exhibition titled Seeing Through Space will interpret the societal and cultural concepts evoked by the mashrabiya, featuring never-before-seen commissioned works by 6 women-identifying artists from the Muslim world. Their works, exhibited in the Center’s main gallery and with our neighboring partner 12 Gates Arts, will speak through the many languages of the mashrabiya, evoking the metaphors and stories found in its elemental forms. The Seeing Through Space artists are: Anila Quayyum Agha, Nidaa Badwan, Susan Hefuna, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Majida Khattari, and Hoda Tawakol.

The Mashrabiya Project evokes the Center’s origins as a nexus for wood turning and a space for communal practice. As such, it reaches across space and time to embody our mission to interpret, nurture, and champion creative engagement, honoring the Center’s first makers while creating new dialogues between new audiences, and across continents, toward global engagement and understanding. The mashrabiya provides a viewpoint, from one space to another; likewise, The Mashrabiya Project links spaces and cultures framed by discussions of architecture, art, craft, and community.


The Mashrabiya Project has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.