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That curly, wurly, y’know, floral pattern thingy. Aka the Arabesque

December 14, 2016, 0 comments, on Lab Nilaya

By Malini Aikat



L: Marquis from Sapphire Oasis; R: Ironwork Damask from IBC Red.


One look and you are ensnared its complex web. A pattern with a hypnotic effect, one that defies straightforward description because it is anything but. 

The Arabesque.

 A lovely, musical word, which in fact, is also applied to the other arts: music, literature and dance and contains in its composition a clue to its meaning and history: Arab like quality.


We know it when we see it. And once your eyes settle on it, it’s hard to look away. It is in architecture, in old palaces in Rajasthan, in the Middle East, in Europe, on carpets, window grilles, wall panels.  


Scrolling, interlacing, intertwining, rhythmic, bifurcating floral ornamental lyricism. Or geometric abstractions that interlock endlessly.  An exuberant and abundant rush of foliate forms, a botanical fairy tale where new sprigs emerge from leaf tips – vines running wild, flowing like lava with no beginning and no end.  


Though begin it surely did in Islamic antiquity and then travelled much – snaked into Italy – to Spain and England and is found almost everywhere now - curling around old, antique cups belonging to Queen Elizabeth I, on architecture throughout Europe and Asia, on both traditional and modern day wallcoverings. It is so ubiquitous we take it for granted.


The Arabesque is so dense, so intricate, so beautiful, it can literally choke your eyes. But underneath the apparent chaos is complete and absolute unity. It combines the runaway nature of imagination and romance with the strict discipline of science and structure. Beneath the decoration is a deep and profound symbolism – thus the arabesque is revered as a complete art form.


Three compositional principles govern its creation: the square with its four sides symbolic of the four elements – earth, wind, fire and water – balanced by graceful scrollwork and flowing lines which represent the feminine or life-givng force. Calligraphy is the third mode of this form. Regarded by Islam as the highest art of all – the vehicle through which thought and history are transmitted. The Arabesque encompasses the nature of the  universe – yin and yang, seeming chaos covering a unifying harmony.




L: Love Song from Gentle and Divine, R: Crystal Jade from Elegant Shades.


Arabesque is hugely popular in wallcoverings – an old decorative tradition by itself. The characteristic flowing movements, rich embellishments, intricate scrollwork, stylised palmettes or fanned out leaves, circular, lacy patterning is found in borders or simpler forms appear as allover patterns.  It is immediately transformative, imparting a regal, luxurious feel to an environment. Simpler compositions, spare and geometric are favoured by modern designers like Ronald Redding giving a room a toned down opulence. 


The Arabesque endures – like all things inherently beautiful do. It has travelled over centuries to please us still. And it has practitioners even today. We introduce you to one here. Aziza Iqbal. 


Aziza Iqbal is a Doha based artist and a self-taught pattern designer who fell in love with patterns and turned that passion into her profession. Follow this conversation to get a closer look at her art:  http://kyoorius.com/2014/10/kyoorius-knocks-aziza-iqbal/ 

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