Ijaza Ceremony, Istanbul

At my ijaza ceremony in Istanbul, with my teacher Ayten Tiryaki (centre left, in the bronze headscarf). Seated in front are renowned Master calligrapher, Hasan Çelebi (right, in the black beret), my teacher’s teacher Çiçek Derman (centre), and scholar of Islamic art Uğur Derman (left)

I have recently returned home from a very special trip to Istanbul, during which, after 12 years of study and practice, I received my ijaza in tezhip (Islamic manuscript illumination). If you would like to read more about the significance of ijaza in classical Islamic art, please take a look at this post I wrote last year on the subject. It has been a very, very long journey. Yet, it really it just the beginning.

Today, I would like to share a few photos from the ijaza ceremony. It was held on the 16th of April, 2018 at the Süleymaniye Kütuphanesi, part of the beautiful Süleymaniye Mosque complex in Istanbul. The ijaza ceremony and exhibition were part of a wider event called Yeditepe Bienali, a two-month long festival comprised of exhibitions and workshops celebrating classical Turkish Islamic arts.

Set within one of the courtyards of the Süleymaniye Mosque complex, the ijaza ceremony and accompanying exhibition could not have been more magical. To give you an idea of the atmosphere, I’ve posted up a short video clip. You can view it by clicking this link.

I felt truly honoured to be in the company of such stars of Islamic art! After the artists, their friends and families had a chance to mingle, the special guests delivered speeches, then presented each of us with our ijaza. We were called to the front, with our artwork, and congratulated by the Master Artists. I was presented my ijaza by Çiçek Derman, my teacher’s teacher.

The artwork Çiçek Derman is presenting to me in the photo above, is my hilye. It is the artwork that authenticates a student’s progression from novice to fully-fledged artist. When a teacher believes their student is ready to receive their ijaza, the student is asked to prepare a hilye. The calligraphic panels of the hilye contain descriptions of the physical and moral characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). It is one of the most difficult compositions to illuminate. It is meant to be both an expression of the student’s love of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), and a sign of their dedication to the craft of illumination.

However, a hilye created to authenticate an ijaza has one small difference: there is an extra calligraphic panel written not in Arabic, but in Ottoman Turkish. This contains a few sentences naming the ijaza student, their teacher, and their teacher’s teacher(s). The text confirms the student’s graduation from novice to artist, and contains prayers for the student and teachers. I do not have a translated copy of the exact ijaza text from Ottoman Turkish to English, but once I do, I will post up the details.

You can read more about the significance of the hilye in my previous post.

Works by Ayten Tiryaki and her students on exhibition at the Süleymanie Kütüphanesi

Exhibiting artists pose for photos with the Master Artists after the ceremony

A few days after the ijaza ceremony, I was treated to this sumptuous breakfast at a beautiful restaurant overlooking Istanbul. To the left of me is my teacher, Ayten Tiryaki. On the right is my friend, and fellow illuminator Fatima Azzahrae Chaabani

Now that I am home, I intend to honour the ijaza, exploring the craft in my studio work, and sharing my knowledge and skills though teaching. Keep an eye out for new courses, which I hope to announce over the coming weeks. I will also post up photos of my ijaza hilye, and describe the processes I went through to create it.

Posted in Exhibitions, Icaza, News, Tezhib, Travels, hilye i şerif, ijaza, tezhip | 1 Comment


Here are some photos from last month’s workshop at the Jameel House of Traditional Arts in Fustat, Cairo. I spent a week teaching students about biomorphic design in Islamic art (also known as islimi). The workshops were run by the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts.

We started the week looking at fundamental leaf and flower shapes used in islimi design. Students completed exercises in pencil, then brush, to train their hand in creating the flowing, curved patterns that are used for islimi. This helped increase students’ sensitivity to different line weights, encouraging greater care and awareness in their brush and pencil practice, refining and honing their skills.

After practicing lines and shapes related to islimi, students looked at the relationship between nature and traditional Islamic pattern. We discussed the idea of “stylisation”. Drawing inspiration from forms in nature, students used principles of symmetry to create their own floral designs.

We spent some time deconstructing and analysing islimi designs on ceramic and paper. Students learnt how to compose their own designs using spirals, leaves and floral motifs. Once their designs were refined and finalised, we traced them onto tea-stained watercolour paper.

Students used painting techniques learnt earlier in the week to add colour to their work.

And after a hard week of designing and painting, the class surprised me with ice cream!

And selfies on the last day!

Posted in Islamic Art Courses, Pattern in Islamic art, Student's Work, Teaching, Travels | Leave a comment

Exhibition: Contemporary Arts Through Living Traditions

Contemporary Arts Through Living Traditions Exhibition

I have the pleasure of inviting you to ‘Contemporary Arts Through Living Traditions’, at the Prince’s Foundation, London. The exhibition features work of alumni and tutors from the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. Four of my paintings will be on show. Works are for sale. I look forward to seeing you there!

Dates: 15th – 22nd of March 2018

Address: The Prince’s Foundation, 19-22 Charlotte Road, London, EC2A 3SG

Posted in Exhibitions, Gilding, Islamic Manuscript Illumination, Islamic geoemtry, Miniature painting, News, Pattern in Islamic art, Tezhib, fine art, painting, tezhip | Leave a comment

Padshahnama Course and Visit to the Royal Collection, Windsor

Shamsa (illuminated frontispiece) from the Padshahnama (c) Royal Collection Trust

I am very excited to announce that I will be teaching the following course with the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in February 2018:

This course focuses on the shamsa, or sunburst motif, found in The Padshahnama, a manuscript depicting part of the reign of the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. Learn about the underlying geometric and Islimi (floral/foliate) structures that form the basis of the Padshahnama shamsa. Gain fundamental knowledge of the painting, gilding, and brushwork techniques used by Mughal illuminators. You will recreate a section of the original illuminated painting and build up your own small portfolio of painting and drawing studies to take home.

The course fee includes a visit to Windsor Castle to see the original page of manuscript.

Course Dates and Timings: 19th-23rd Feb 2018 (Monday to Friday), 10.30am – 5.30pm

Venue: Prime Studios, 1 – 6 Ward Royal Parade, Alma Road, Windsor, SL4 3HR. Click here for a map.

Course fee: £385 (full price), £310 (concessions)

For full course details and booking information, please visit the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts webpage.

Posted in Gilding, Islamic Art Courses, Islamic Manuscript Illumination, Islamic geoemtry, News, Teaching, Tezhib, painting, tezhip | 1 Comment


Bougainville (c) Ayesha Gamiet 2017

This was a fun commission I completed for a client at the end of last year – a Christmas present for the client’s Greek wife. He asked me to paint bougainville, as these flowers grow abundantly in Greece. So I settled upon purple bougainville on a contrasting yellow background with a cheery orange patterned vase. I must have been craving the sunshine!

Posted in Gilding, Illustration, Miniature painting, Pattern in Islamic art, commissions, fine art, painting | Leave a comment

Interview with Scripts n’ Scribes Magazine

“I think the inspiration to follow this path has been fueled by a desire to be fulfilled creatively and spiritually. The practice of Islamic art combines these elements so completely, and in such beautiful ways, I’m sure I’ll always be learning more and creating more. The learning never stops, and the possibilities are infinite”

- Excerpt  from an interview I did with Scripts n’ Scribes online magazine. You can read the full interview here.

Posted in Gilding, Islamic Manuscript Illumination, Media, News, Tezhib, articles, hilye i şerif, tezhip | Tagged , | Leave a comment

New Course at the Yunus Emre Institute in London, October 2017

Tezhip workshop at the Yunus Emre Institute, London

I’m looking forward to teaching this new course at the Yunus Emre Institute in London next month. Please see below for details:

For centuries, Muslim artists have used gold, ink, and brightly coloured paints to illuminate and beautify sacred manuscripts. Focusing on key geometric and floral motifs in manuscript illumination, students will construct and analyse traditional manuscript patterns, recreating one as an illuminated page.

Course Start Date: Monday 23rd October 2017
Course End Date: Friday 27th October 2017
Deadline for enrolment : 20th October 2017 at 3 pm

Monday-Friday 10:30am – 5:30pm (5 Days Intensive Course)

1 week (30 hours in total)

Yunus Emre Enstitüsü – London 10 Maple Street London, W1T 5HA (Nearest Tube Stations: Warren Street and Goodge Street)

£285.00 (including materials)

For further information please contact Mrs. Emel Albayrak on 0207 387 3036 or londra@yee.org.tr


Posted in Islamic Art Courses, Islamic Manuscript Illumination, Islamic geometry, News, Pattern in Islamic art, Teaching, Tezhib | 2 Comments

Prime Open Studios 2017

Art demonstration at La Galleria Nazionale in Rome

Prime Open Studios
Date and time: 23rd-24th September 2017, 12pm – 6pm
Venue: Prime Studios, 1-6 Ward Royal Parade, Alma Road, Windsor, SL4 3HR.

On the 23rd-24th of September, Prime Studios will open its doors to the public! There are currently seven artists in residence, ranging from a musician and composer, to oil painters, an Islamic artist, 3D printing and more. Come visit us, see us at work, buy direct from the artists, and enjoy the the opportunity to get a glimpse into our creative spaces.

I will be giving a live demo of my illumination work, so if you’ve ever wondered how it’s done, here’s your chance to find out! I will also bring cake. What’s not to love? All welcome, please spread the word!

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Detail from my first hilye (c) Ayesha Gamiet 2017

Earlier this year, I was in Istanbul working on a very special project. For over 10 years, I have been working towards a traditional apprenticeship in tezhib (the art of Islamic manuscript illumination). The Turkish and Arabic term given to this qualification is ijaza, meaning “permission”. It is a term that exists not just in the realm of Islamic art, but also in the world of traditional Islamic scholarship and learning. Receipt of an ijaza authenticates a student’s studies, signalling the completion of their apprenticeship, indicating that the student has obtained a successful foundation and understanding of the subject in question. It gives the novice permission from a Master, or Shaykh to pass on the knowledge, and teach. And in the case of traditional Islamic art, the ijaza graduates the apprentice to the role of fully fledged artist by giving them permission to sign their name on a piece of work.

In Istanbul in March 2017, I received ijaza from my Master. As far as I am aware, I am the first British person to receive such a privilege, and perhaps the first non-Turk, too. In the art of tezhib, the ijaza takes the form of a hilye – a traditional Ottoman calligraphic composition describing the physical, moral, and spiritual characteristics of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). For more information on the hilye, it’s history, significance, composition, and translation of the text, I recommend this excellent article by acclaimed American calligrapher, Mohamed Zakariya. You can also take a look at a previous post I wrote about illuminating my first hilye, and the process that went into creating the artwork.

Detail from my first hilye (c) Ayesha Gamiet 2017

The centuries-old practice of ijaza in traditional Islamic art denotes the importance of the personal, face to face relationship between student and Master. In Ottoman times, apprentice illuminators would belong to a guild of artists, where their training in the craft would go hand-in-hand with their moral and spiritual development. Although the guild system no longer exists in many parts of the Islamic world, practical craft skills, and the essence of the art are still alive. By “essence of the art”, I mean the spirit in which these works are created, and by that, I mean a spirit of humility and devotion. In contrast to much of the contemporary art scene, traditional Islamic art aims to place the Creator, and not the artist, at the centre of the work. Learning a traditional Islamic art, therefore becomes a process of surrendering to the discipline of the craft, as opposed to exploring individual creativity. From an Islamic perspective, there is only one true Creator, and role of the traditional Islamic artist is to glorify Him through our craft.

Looked at in that light, the relationship between Master and apprentice becomes a key part of the ijaza process. More than just a teacher, the Master is more like a mentor, sharing not just their craft skills, but also the example of their character and behaviour. In my experience of learning the art of tezhib, I would say that I was initially attracted to the art by the exquisite beauty of the manuscripts. Upon meeting the illuminators and calligraphers of Istanbul, I was overwhelmed by their kindness, humility, love, and devotion to their craft. Over the years, I came to realise that this art form is not merely concerned with creating beautiful images; more significantly, when practiced with the right intention and in the correct spirit, traditional Islamic arts allows us the opportunity to craft beautiful human beings. This simple truth is what has kept me in love with Islamic art after all this time.

My new hilye, complete with my ijaza, waiting to be illuminated

I’m often asked why I don’t teach online courses. To me, the significance of the student / teacher relationship in Islamic art is so important that I wouldn’t feel right in compromising any part of this process. Aside from practical concerns of not being able to correct a students’ work in an online class, tezhib to me is so much more than just teaching a few painting techniques and processes. Students need to experience the face to face relationship with a teacher, to observe their character, behaviour, and temperament, to appreciate the atmosphere of the classroom, and to interact with other students. In my opinion, all of these elements are just as significant as practical skills in learning the art of tezhib. While I understand that it’s difficult to find good, authentic teachers in many parts of the world, I also know that we need to strive and make an effort for what we love. The reason it’s taken me over 10 years to receive my ijaza is not just because I’m slow! Many years have gone by when I’ve not had the time or the finances to enable me to travel to Istanbul and learn. But I persevered regardless because this art is worthy of our best efforts. And even if it had taken me 20 or 30 years, it would still be worth it. Trust me, I should know!

Another crucial aspect of the ijaza is the permission it grants the novice in graduating them to the rank of fully fledged artist and teacher. Making the ijaza a mandatory requirement before teaching the art ensures that the quality of the craft is preserved through the generations. Many years ago, I received permission from my teacher to run workshops in tezhib at a very elementary level. Up until this point, my teaching has only touched on a few basic principles. The in-depth teaching of the craft is something I would never attempt without an ijaza. At best, this would be considered misguided and presumptuous, and at worst, it would show arrogance and a lack of respect for the craft and its teachers. Students who set themselves up as teachers after taking a few short courses damage the craft because they pass on incorrect and incomplete knowledge. This in turn denigrates the art, promoting bad practice, and causing the quality of work to diminish over time. The ijaza system protects against this by setting a benchmark of practice, thereby preserving the quality of the art from generation to generation.

Close up of the "ijaza" section on my hilye. The ijaza consists of the last two lines of calligraphy. It's written in Ottoman Turkish, while the rest of the hilye is in Arabic

I will end this post with a close up of the ijaza text on my hilye. Unfortunately, I don’t have a direct translation of the Ottoman Turkish, but I can tell you that it authenticates me as a fully fledged artist and teacher in the craft of tezhib. It gives me permission to pass on knowledge of this craft, and it mentions my name, my teacher’s name, and the names of my teacher’s teachers. This last part is significant because it connects me to generations of tezhib artists, spanning hundreds of years. And that’s the essence of ijaza – the artistic and spiritual connection that it embodies, and the responsibility that falls upon each generation of artists to practice and pass on the knowledge in that spirit of humility and devotion.

Posted in Islamic Manuscript Illumination, News, Pattern in Islamic art, Teaching, Tezhib, Travels, hilye i şerif, tezhip | 1 Comment

Exhibition at La Galleria Nazionale, Rome

Four of my paintings on show at La Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome

Last month, I was invited to exhibit four of my paintings at La Galleria Nazionale in Rome. This exhibition occurred alongside a month-long series of workshops and events with Una Moschea Per Roma, during which I delivered an Islamic art workshop at La Galleria with my friend and colleague, Shaheen Kasmani. I’ve written more about the workshops in my previous post. For more information about the project, take a look at Una Moschea Per Roma’s page.

Here are a few images from the exhibition, enjoy!

'One Song' (c) Ayesha Gamiet 2017. Indigo, shell gold, and pigments on gold leaf.

This painting was inspired by the words of Jalauddin Rumi, whose poem ‘One Song’ speaks of spiritual unity. Originally a commission for a client, I started this painting at the end of 2016. When the client realised that their budget did not stretch to new artwork, I decided to paint the piece, regardless, as I loved the poem and its sentiment. I also loved imagining this fantastical golden forest with its patterned trees and colourful birds! Below is an extract from the poem:

One Song
“What is praised is one, so the praise is one too,
many jugs being poured
into a huge basin. All religions, all this singing,
one song.
The differences are just illusion and vanity. Sunlight
looks slightly different
on this wall than it does on that wall and a lot different
on this other one, but
it is still one light. We have borrowed these clothes, these
time-and-space personalities,
from a light, and when we praise, we pour them back in”

By Jalaluddin Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

'Ayat Al-Kursi' (c) Ayesha Gamiet, 2017. Shell gold, gouache, and inks on handmade paper.

This illuminated painting contains calligraphy from the Qur’an. The translation of the Qur’anic calligraphy, 2:255 is as follows:

Allah. There is no god but He,-the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory).

Translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Calligraphy by Sabah Arbili.
Illumination by Ayesha Gamiet.

'Ayat Al-Birr' (c) Ayesha Gamiet, 2017. Shell gold, gouache, and inks on handmade paper

I’ve written about the story behind this illuminated painting in a previous blog post. Those of you who follow my blog will know that the calligraphy is one of my parents’ favourite verses from the Qur’an, and that I made this painting as a gift to them to thank them for their love and support throughout my education and career.

Below is a translation of the Qur’anic calligraphy, 2:177:

In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful

It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West;
but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers;
to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves;
to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity;
to fulfil the contracts which ye have made;
and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah fearing.

Translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Calligraphy by Nassar Mansour
Illumination by Ayesha Gamiet

Persian miniature painting (c) Ayesha Gamiet, 2017. Gold leaf, shell gold, and pigments on stained and sized watercolour paper.

And finally, this is my latest Persian miniature. I was interested to explore pattern and colour in Persian miniature architectural forms. I also really enjoyed using proportional rectangles to help create the composition for this piece. I hope you enjoy the work!

‘One Song’ and my Persian miniature painting are both for sale. Please get in touch via the contact form on my website if you are interested in purchasing or commissioning a work.

Posted in Exhibitions, Islamic Manuscript Illumination, Miniature painting, News, Rumi, Teaching, Tezhib, Travels, fine art, painting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment