Of all our subjects for this edition, Fareed stands out as perhaps the man who gives greatest theoretical and theological research to his body of work. Whilst all of our subjects in this edition of progressive in many senses, those within the region often find themselves going up against traditionalists. When you’re doing this in the form of architecture it can be controversial enough, but when you’re revisiting the manifestation of spiritual texts you’re presenting a much more controversial target to sectors of society. Such is the extent of his research and depth of thought, Fareed’s answer to his critics is invariably delivered as the last word.
“Through today’s often-harsh interpretation of our faith, makes people think that design and designers set themselves against the will and the creations of Allah. So, over time my realization developed that I have to show – through my expression of art – that I am a friend of the sacred, and that the sacred is flexible enough to accommodate our interpretation.”
As an architect, and now lecturer in architecture at Kuwait University, Fareed has the broadest of views of design. He’s also artist, calligrapher and designer and a great conversationalist. Always looking for a new approach, he sees this as a way of engaging society, and of softening the effect of extreme or misguided beliefs.
“I feel good in terms of tackling my calligraphic training in a new way – as an architect. Many times people who are in the creative field receive social pressure. They get accused of co-creating with God. What is perceived as ‘sacred’ has begun to over-monopolize and it has meant design has become very stiff.”
Is the situation changing? It is. Definitely, but slowly. It’s almost like a renaissance time. We have scientists, engineers, mathematicians and philosophers re-reasoning our approach. In the past we were much more flexible than now.
The region once led the world is design, and thought too. Are we moving into an era when this can once again be the case? We are getting our confidence back in the region. But the struggle is wider than only here in our region. Look at Indonesia. Look at what happened to some in Egypt when they tried to open the subject of rethinking our approach. Right now we’re not so different to Europe in the Middle Ages in terms of repression, influence and a variation of tolerance.
So, you’re using your art, your calligraphy, and making it relevant to today? Respecting its past, but heralding its future? Absolutely. There must be movement forward. If we don’t move things forward they die.
Not everyone feels the same as you do. Other designers are working on what we could perhaps refer to as a more secular level, or a more international level. Of course. Architects and designers vary in their position – and we must respect each other for this. They don’t care too much for the heritage. But there’s enough space for designers from across the spectrum. Their designs are just as valid as mine or anyone else’s.
Design is a human experience – and we’re all entitled to our level of evolution and our own level of struggle and maturity.
In our experience, you’re one of the most open-minded people we know. But the contradiction is that your art is so narrowly focused. Do you agree? What is it within you that pushes you down this road? I do agree – within myself and for myself I spend time doing some meditative calligraphy. It’s a form of spiritual exercise. A time for me to reflect and to meditate. I’m experimenting to with the figurative. I don’t think I’m very good at it, but when I do it, it’s also a time to reflect on my own situation, and this influences the way I work.
If I lived in the States I’m sure I would have a different approach. But the fact is that I’m living here, at the north-east end of the Arabian Gulf and here’s somewhere that we struggle with the sacred. I look around and see these conflicts – they’re all about who is the khalif, who is the ruler, who is the heretic.
Through my work I’m merely exposing the beauty of the holy texts. I’m delivering it as a human message. I play with the proportions from an engineering perspective. I know even this has upset some traditionalists. But there are some basic rules that need to be revisited and reused. These were set centuries ago. As long as I understand the rules, I’m free to bend and even break them. I love the dialogue that comes out of this.