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Maysoon Masalha & Bassam Al Selawi

Introduction to Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi 


Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi are two renowned Jordanian artists who have made a significant impact on the art world with their unique and innovative shadow sculptures. Their art combines modern sculpture techniques with traditional Arabic calligraphy to create breathtaking pieces that reveal a hidden dimension when illuminated. This research will delve into their background, artistic journey, and the creative process that led them to develop their distinctive shadow sculptures. 


Born and raised in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, both Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi studied Fine Art in their home country. They spent several years teaching art and experimenting with various mediums, materials, and techniques. During their time instructing Palestinian refugee children, they honed their skills further, driven by the necessity to innovate and think creatively due to limited resources. 


Masalha went on to teach art at United Nations Schools for Palestinian Refugees, where she discovered the profound impact that art can have on both her students and the community. She later became an art supervisor at the UN Education Development Center, managing a team of art teachers, organizing workshops, and public arts projects. As Manager of Art Craft at Art Hub, Masalha continues to encourage others to discover their artistic talents while creating her own artwork. 


Al-Selawi strongly believes that visual art is a powerful means of self-expression and that everyone should have the opportunity to practice art, regardless of their talent level. As Manager of Applied Art at Art Hub, he shares his experiences and understanding of art in various capacities, working toward making the world a better place through art. Al-Selawi is also responsible for the design and installation of art commissions, ranging from decorative to practical furnishings. 


Together, Masalha and Al-Selawi have developed a unique technique for creating shadow sculptures, showcasing their work in a dedicated gallery at Art Hub. Their art is a perfect fusion of painting, sculpture, shadow, and light, adding a fourth dimension to the three-dimensional sculptures. The artists use Arabic calligraphy in most of their sculptures, reflecting shadows that paint an image on the wall, which is formed in the viewer's mind when reading the phrases. 


Using different materials and innovative techniques, Masalha and Al-Selawi have explored the interplay between light and shadow to create their signature pieces. At first glance, one might mistake their shadow sculptures for installations, as they consist of intricate carvings of Arabic calligraphy mounted on the wall, with a seemingly painted silhouette behind them. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that the spotlight casts the shadow, revealing the true ingenuity of the artists. 


The artists have participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions, as well as art fairs and symposiums, showcasing their unique art around the world. Some of their notable exhibitions include Rosewood Abu Dhabi, Al-Serkal Cultural Foundation, Sofitel Abu Dhabi, and Baginiskaya Gallery in Dubai. They have also taken part in international events such as Beirut Art Fair, Abu Dhabi Art Fair, and Liwa Art Hub's various festivals. 


In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the creative process behind Masalha and Al-Selawi's shadow sculptures, exploring their techniques, materials, and the inspiration behind their work. 

Part 2 of 5: The Creative Process and Techniques of Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi 


The creation of shadow sculptures by Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi involves a complex and time-consuming process that combines their skills in sculpture, calligraphy, and lighting. Their work often features verses from the Quran and poetic phrases, with the shadows illustrating the emotions or stories evoked by the words on the sculptures themselves. 


1. Conceptualization and Design 


The artists begin by conceptualizing the idea for their sculpture, considering the calligraphic text and the corresponding shadow image they wish to create. They sketch the desired shadow and design the sculpture accordingly, taking into account the interplay between light and shadow that will bring their artwork to life. 


2. Sculpting 


Once the design is finalized, Masalha and Al-Selawi create the initial sculpture out of clay, carefully crafting the calligraphic elements and relief forms that will ultimately cast the intended shadow. This stage requires a high level of precision and attention to detail, as the artists must ensure that the three-dimensional sculpture will produce the desired shadow effect. 


3. Mold Creation 


After completing the clay sculpture, the artists create a rubber mold around it using a special mold material. This mold captures the intricate details of the clay sculpture, allowing them to produce multiple resin casts with the same design. 


4. Resin Casting 


Resin casting is a common technique in sculpture that involves pouring a liquid, glue-like material into a mold. The resin hardens to a dense solid, and the mold is then removed. Bassam Al-Selawi explains that, although their sculptures might appear to be carved from wood, they are actually cast out of resin, which allows them to create pieces more quickly and efficiently. It takes about one to two days to cast a sculpture from the mold. 


5. Finishing Touches 


The final stage in the process involves refining the resin cast to ensure it casts a perfect, recognizable shadow. The artists touch up the cast, which typically comes out slightly duller than the original clay sculpture, to achieve the desired level of detail and clarity in the shadow. 


While many of their sculptures are produced as limited editions, Masalha and Al-Selawi also accept commissions for unique, customized pieces. These custom works can be made in various materials, including bronze or silver and gold plating, depending on the client's preferences and budget. 


The innovative approach of Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi to shadow sculpture has garnered widespread acclaim and recognition in the art world. Their ability to merge traditional Arabic calligraphy with contemporary sculpture techniques and the interplay of light and shadow results in captivating artworks that challenge the viewer's perception of reality and illusion. 


In the next section, we will explore the themes and inspirations behind the shadow sculptures of Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi, shedding light on the cultural and artistic influences that have shaped their work. 

Part 3 of 5: Themes and Inspirations in the Shadow Sculptures of Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi 


The shadow sculptures of Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi often feature a wide range of themes and subjects, drawing inspiration from various aspects of Arabic life, culture, and religion. In this section, we will delve into some of the key themes and inspirations that have shaped their distinctive body of work. 


1. Arabic Calligraphy and Islamic Art 


A central element of Masalha and Al-Selawi's shadow sculptures is the use of Arabic calligraphy, a traditional art form that has been practiced for centuries. The artists skillfully incorporate calligraphic passages from the Quran and other poetic phrases into their sculptures, which cast shadows that illustrate the meanings and emotions conveyed by the text. 


In addition to calligraphy, other aspects of Islamic art can be seen in their work, such as the use of geometric patterns and decorative motifs. These elements contribute to the overall visual impact of their shadow sculptures and reflect the artists' deep respect and admiration for the cultural heritage of the region. 


2. Arabic Life and Traditions 


Many of the shadow sculptures created by Masalha and Al-Selawi reference various aspects of Arabic life and traditions, such as praying, camel riding, and playing musical instruments. These subjects help to create a sense of familiarity and connection for viewers from the region while also sharing aspects of Arabic culture with a wider audience. 


One notable example of their work is a sculpture that casts the shadow of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque over an Arabic inscription from the Quran. This piece serves as a tribute to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, and reflects the importance of religion and spirituality in the region. 


3. Light and Shadow 


The interplay of light and shadow is a central theme in the work of Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi. By using shadows as an integral part of their sculptures, the artists create a sense of depth and dimensionality that extends beyond the physical boundaries of the artwork itself. 


This exploration of light and shadow is not only visually striking but also carries a deeper symbolic significance. The contrast between light and darkness can be seen as a metaphor for the duality of life, the balance between good and evil, and the interplay between reality and illusion. 


4. Personal Experiences and Background 


Masalha and Al-Selawi's personal experiences and backgrounds have also played a significant role in shaping their artistic vision. Both artists studied Fine Art in their native Jordan and spent years teaching art and working on custom projects. Their experiences teaching art to Palestinian refugee children, in particular, had a profound impact on their approach to creativity and innovation. 


In conclusion, the shadow sculptures of Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi are deeply rooted in the rich cultural and artistic traditions of the Arab world, while also reflecting their unique personal experiences and artistic sensibilities. Through their innovative exploration of light and shadow, the artists have created a distinctive body of work that challenges the viewer's perception and captivates their imagination. 


Part 4 of 5: Techniques and Materials Used in the Shadow Sculptures of Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi 


The creation of the shadow sculptures by Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi involves the use of innovative techniques and a variety of materials. In this section, we will examine the process and materials used by the artists to craft their unique pieces. 


1. Sculpture Techniques 


To create their shadow sculptures, Masalha and Al-Selawi begin by sketching the shadow they want to cast. They then create a clay sculpture that corresponds to the desired shadow effect. Once the clay sculpture is complete, they make a rubber mold around it using a special mold material. This mold is crucial for the next step in the process: casting the sculpture in resin. 


Resin casting is a common technique in sculpture, where a liquid, glue-like material is poured into a mold. The resin hardens into a dense solid, and the mold is then removed. Masalha and Al-Selawi use this process to create their intricate shadow sculptures. 


2. Material Selection 


Although the shadow sculptures created by Masalha and Al-Selawi may appear to be carved from wood, they are actually cast from resin. This material choice allows the artists to create highly detailed and durable sculptures with relatively short production times. As Bassam Al-Selawi explained in an interview, "If they were carved from wood, it would take us a month to finish one piece." 


In addition to resin, the artists have also experimented with other materials for their sculptures, such as bronze, silver, and gold plating. These materials are typically used for limited edition and customized pieces, which command higher prices than the resin sculptures. 


3. Finishing and Touch-ups 


After the resin sculptures have been cast, they still require additional work to achieve the desired level of detail and precision. The artists carefully touch up the sculptures to ensure that they cast a clear, recognizable shadow. 


This attention to detail is a testament to the skill and dedication of Masalha and Al-Selawi, who work tirelessly to ensure that each piece they create is a true masterpiece. 


4. Lighting 


The final element in the creation of the shadow sculptures is the careful positioning of the lighting. By shining a light at a specific angle, the artists can manipulate the shadows cast by the sculptures, revealing the hidden images and meanings contained within the artwork. 


This interplay between light and shadow is a key aspect of the artists' work and serves to highlight the intricate craftsmanship and creativity that goes into each piece. 


In conclusion, the shadow sculptures of Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi are the result of a meticulous and innovative process that combines traditional artistic techniques with modern materials and technology. Through their careful attention to detail and their ability to manipulate light and shadow, the artists have succeeded in creating a unique and captivating art form that continues to fascinate and inspire viewers around the world. 


Part 5 of 5: Impact and Legacy of Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi's Shadow Sculptures 


The work of Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi has had a significant impact on the contemporary art world, particularly in the Middle East. Their shadow sculptures have captured the imagination of art enthusiasts, critics, and collectors alike, leading to numerous exhibitions and growing recognition for their innovative techniques and artistic vision. In this final section, we will explore the influence of their work and its legacy in the world of art. 


1. Cultural Significance 


The shadow sculptures of Masalha and Al-Selawi often incorporate elements of Arabic culture, tradition, and religion. By utilizing passages from the Qur'an and depicting scenes from daily life, their work serves to preserve and celebrate the rich heritage of the Arab world. In doing so, the artists contribute to a growing appreciation for the beauty and complexity of Arabic art and culture on a global stage. 


2. Innovation in Art 


The unique techniques employed by Masalha and Al-Selawi have set them apart from other artists working in similar mediums. Their ability to create recognizable art with and without the shadow element, as well as their mastery of light and shadow, has helped to establish them as pioneers in the field of shadow sculpture. Their innovative approach to art has inspired other artists to explore new techniques and challenge the boundaries of traditional art forms. 


3. Recognition and Exhibitions 


The work of Masalha and Al-Selawi has been featured in numerous exhibitions and art fairs around the world, garnering attention from both local and international audiences. Their pieces have been displayed in prestigious venues such as the Rosewood Abu Dhabi, Sofitel Abu Dhabi, and various art fairs and galleries in Dubai, Beirut, and other cities. The increasing demand for their work is a testament to the impact their unique creations have had on the art world. 


4. Education and Mentorship 


Both Masalha and Al-Selawi have backgrounds in education and have spent years teaching art to students of various ages. Their experience in working with Palestinian refugee children, in particular, has given them a unique perspective on the power of art to transform lives and inspire hope. As managers at the Art Hub in Abu Dhabi, they continue to mentor and support emerging artists, sharing their knowledge and passion for art with the next generation of creative minds. 


In conclusion, the work of Maysoon Masalha and Bassam Al-Selawi has had a profound impact on the contemporary art scene, particularly in the Middle East. Their innovative shadow sculptures have captivated audiences, and their dedication to preserving and celebrating Arabic culture and tradition has enriched the global art community. Through their mentorship and educational initiatives, the artists continue to inspire the next generation of artists, ensuring that their unique artistic vision will live on for years to come. 

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