13 July 2024

Sana Ebrahim

Eid-al-Fitr is a time of celebration epitomised by cherishing family, friends and the wider community. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) encouraged gift-giving as a gesture that strengthens relations between the giver and the recipient.

He enjoined responding in kind to favours, as the following narration highlights: “Whoever does you a favour, respond in kind, and if you cannot find the means of doing so, then keep praying for him until you think that you have responded in kind” (Abu Dawood). Another hadith states: “Exchange gifts, as that will lead to increasing your love to one another” (Al-Bukhari).

Artist Shehnaz Desai has shared some of her novel art gifting ideas with Al Qalam. She is the director of L’Art Arabe Gallery in Musgrave, Durban. Her Eid gifting ideas include: ceramic plates, vases, mirrors, clocks and ostrich eggs painted in Arabic calligraphy; Dirilis (Turkish hats – Ertugrul); memory foam musallas; and Kashmiri carpets.

The art of Shehnaz Desai invokes a dialogue between the modern-abstract and traditional forms and practices of Islamic paintings. Her work taps into visual images once a part of daily life but now a part of history. She paints mainly on canvas and wood, applying an infinite number of painted pixels and organic shapes that conjure true inspiration.

Her unique style of creativity can be found at the gallery, nestled between other artists’ work. Inspired by an Eastern theme, her work is a combination of painting and sculpture. “I work with diverse media, mesh, sand and stone. I like the tactile, earthy feel it gives my creations. The abstract art incorporates Qur’anic verses and poetry. The gallery also offers framing facilities,” says Desai. In nurturing her talent, her husband Yusuf always encouraged her to pursue art.

Islamic art differs from that of other cultures in form and materials used, as well as in subject matter and meaning. Often described by recurrent motifs in a repetition known as the arabesque, Islamic art is used to symbolise the transcendent, indivisible and infinite nature of the Almighty. Motifs include the use of geometrical floral or vegetal designs. Mistakes in repetitions may be intentionally introduced as a show of humility by artists who believe only God can produce perfection, although this theory is disputed.


Arabic calligraphy has developed for over 14 centuries in various regions around the world. The history and diversity of the Baghdadi and Ottomon eras have enriched Arabic scripts with a range of complex and artistic forms. A widely acknowledged art form, Arabic calligraphy continues to develop simultaneously in traditional methods and in digital and computer-generated arts. Globally, Arabic calligraphers continue to develop and master their characteristic styles and artwork based on existing scripts and their own scripts.

One area where the genius of Muslim civilisation has been recognised worldwide is that of art. The artists of the Islamic world adapted their creativity to evoke their inner beliefs in a series of abstract forms, producing some amazing works of art. Rejecting the depiction of living forms, the artists progressively established a new style substantially deviating from the Roman and Byzantine art of their time. In the mind of such artists, works of art are very much connected to ways of transmitting the message of Islam rather than the material form used in other cultures.

To quote an authentic hadith of the Prophet (SAW) as narrated by Al-Bukhari: “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty.” Perhaps the clearest translation of the position of Islam towards art, the hadith illustrates that beauty, in Islam, is a quality of the divine. The great scholar Al-Ghazali considered the injunction to be based on two main criteria involving the perfect proportion and the luminosity, encompassing both outer and inner parts of things, animals and humans.

L’Art Arabe Gallery forefronts contemporary and classic Islamic art. Pieces by local and international artists are showcased. From something special for new home owners to corporate gifting, and customised décor to suit the home or workplace, the gallery is sure to mesmerise.

An interleading entrance connects the quaint gallery to Country Bake café and bakery. The creative space within the gallery is used for art lessons. FrameSide events featuring ‘Durban Dayz’ signature dishes and interactive presentations by artists, photographers and writers are held in the gallery. A professional video review of L’Art Arabe Gallery appears on the Traveling Easel online site.

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