TRAVELING EXHIBITION: Geometric Aljamía: a Cultural Transliteration

Logo Geometric Aljamia

By addressing the fundamental geometry embedded in two-dimensional art, Geometric Aljamía: a Cultural Transliteration acknowledges hybrid connections between Europe, the Mediterranean basin, and the Middle East. In the past, aljamia played a significant role in preserving Islam and the Arabic language in the West.  By understanding the visual arts as a transliteration of one form of thinking to another, this exhibition revisits the ongoing impact of Islamic art, science, and philosophy throughout the world today.

Since ancient times, geometric perfection (circle, square, and triangle) has been thought to convey sacred and universal truths by reflecting the fractal interconnections of the natural world. One finds these similarities across cultures embedded in many diverse ethnic patterns. Incorporating these patterns into works of art promotes access through recognition and this commonality creates a connection. Geometric ornamentation may have reached a pinnacle in the Islamic world, where it has been assimilated into all aspects of everyday life.  The exhibition examines an extended cross-cultural integration of the arts into life.

The paper cut installations of Amin, Gower, and Korchi use sacred geometry to blend subtle imperfection with structured repetition.  Townsend is inspired by Koran Illumination Tehzip patterns in the Ottoman style for her wall tracings and papercut while Sahebzada draws upon the Behzad School of Illumination for his calligraphic wall tracing and papercut.  Benitez uses linear perspective as a metaphor for Western Civilization. Their shared artistic and intellectual interests speak to the larger hybrid relationship that the West shares with the Middle East, and especially with the Golden Age of Islamic Civilization.

This exhibition evolved out of a workshop conducted by Gower and Benitez during the 2013 Tasmeem Conference, which was organized by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCUQ) School of the Arts in Doha, Qatar.

Mohammad Saleh Amin was born in Khair Khana, northern Kabul. Having finished high school Saleh took the decision to enroll at the Turquoise Mountain Institute. Although neither Saleh’s family nor friends took an interest in the craft, Saleh found himself drawn to calligraphy and miniature painting from a young age. It was a dangerous hobby in the age of the Taliban, but now at the age of 25 it is Saleh’s profession, and he owns his very own thriving business. Saleh is particularly inspired by the Moghul and Behzad schools of design, and his work is typically Afghan in his sensitive use of the local pigments, Lapis lazuli, gold and silver

Jorge Benitez is an Assistant Professor in the Communications Arts Department at Virginia Commonwealth University.  He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from Virginia Commonwealth University where he currently teaches drawing, art theory and the history of visual communications. His theoretical interests derive from an earlier career in advertising as well as his fluency in French and Spanish. He developed an interest in the conflict between words and images in the 1990s when Americans began to describe their national divisions as a “culture war.”  He currently participates in regional and international exhibitions, and his work is represented in corporate collections and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Reni Gower is a Professor in the Painting and Printmaking Department at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Her art work has been showcased at international and national venues for over 30 years.  In 2014, she was the recipient of three awards for outstanding teaching that include the College Art Association’s Distinguished Teacher of Art Award, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Distinguished Teaching Award and VCUarts’ Distinguished Achievement in Teaching Award. In 2008, she was also recognized by VCUarts with an Award of Excellence in Research, Teaching, and Service and by the Southeastern College Art Conference in 2007 with an Award of Excellence in Teaching.  In addition to her teaching and painting practice, she curates award winning traveling exhibitions.  Several of her projects that are currently traveling include FABRICation since September 2013, Heated Exchange since 2012 and Papercuts since 2011.  She is the recipient of numerous grants including a NEA / SECCA Southeastern Artist Fellowship and Virginia Commission for the Arts Project Grants.  Her work is represented in various collections including the Library of Congress Print Collection, Pleasant Company / Mattel, Inc, the American Embassies in Lima, Peru and Osaka, Japan, Media General, Inc, and the Federal Reserve Bank.    She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Syracuse University, a Master of Arts degree from University of Minnesota-Duluth, and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Hanane Korchi is a freelance graphic designer, who specializes in art for identity, print promotions, packaging and web design.  From 2011 – 2013, she was an interactive / graphic designer for the College of the North Atlantic – Qatar.  Prior to living in Doha, she worked for Apple Canada, Inc in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  She recently relocated back to British Columbia, Canada.  She holds an Arts & Entertainment Management Certificate and a Graphic Design & Illustration Diploma from Capilano College, North Vancouver, British Columbia.

Tamim Sahebzada was born in Kabul, and comes from a long line of calligraphers tracing back to his Great Great Grandfather. His family has been crucial in the preservation of the Behzad School of illuminated work. Tamim was one of the first teachers to work at the Turquoise Mountain Institute, having gained a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Kabul Faculty of Arts. The quality of his work was recently recognized by the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture, who awarded him first prize in their calligraphy competition. Tamim has exhibited his work widely, both nationally and internationally, and in March 2013 participated in a high profile exhibition at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.

Julia Townsend is primarily a painter of cartoon and surrealistic imagery. She also works in sculpture, installation, and illustration/creative writing. Her recent exhibitions in Dubai include wall drawings and shaped surfaces that explore how images travel in and out of frames. Her interest in geometry came out of two years of study at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, where she had the opportunity to learn the traditional techniques of Koran illumination. She has lived in the UAE since 2003 where she teaches in the Department of Visual Communication at the American University in Dubai. She has also taught and exhibited in Istanbul, Berlin, and Barcelona. Her current project is the renovation of a 1932 peanut processing mill in Edenton, North Carolina, US, which is becoming The Peanut Factory, an international artist retreat.


Size of Exhibition:  Approximately 225 running feet. Exhibition may be sized to your gallery specifications.

Number of Works:

26 wall mounted works

4 optional sculptural works available  – See Prospectus

  • Checklist and Condition Report with detailed installation instructions travel with exhibition
  • Special installation hardware travels with exhibition

Additional Support Material Provided by Venue:

  • Confirmation letter / contract to exhibition coordinator
  • Invitations, mailing, e-vite
  • Gallery signage and labels
  • Press material to appropriate media list
  • Reception
  • $1,000.00 rental fee


All work packed in reusable museum quality boxes for freight climate controlled transport or FedEx Ground

Each venue to provide one way shipping to the next venue

  • Free shipping estimates available through TCI International
  • Contact Colleen Kennelly:
  • See prospectus for detailed box information and shipping estimates

Insurance: Wall to Wall / Provided by Virginia Commonwealth University

Available on request:

  • High Resolution Digital Image Files / Press Packet
  • Gallery Talk / Panel presentation / Workshops / Performances by artist(s) when funding permits
  • Installation Assistance by artist(s) when funding permits
  • Link to Catalog / Available at venue expense
  • Catalog is available at venue expense through


VCUQ Gallery, Doha, Qatar; March 2013
Langford 120 Gallery, Melbourne, Australia; August 2013
Total Arts Gallery, Dubai, United Arab Emirates; August – September 2014
Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA; Nov 16, 2014 – Feb 21, 2015
Chapman University Art Collections, Orange, CA; Aug 15, 2016 – Jan 15, 2017
Helen E. Copeland Gallery, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT; Feb 27 – Apr 7, 2017
Available May 2017 and beyond

Studio International: Artists Interview 4/15/2015

Studio International: Review 4/10/2014

Intercultural Interconnectivity by Sandra Bird / Journal of Global Initiatives


  This exhibition is sponsored in part by Virginia Commonwealth University, VCUarts, Painting and Printmaking Department


Contact Reni Gower:

Categories: Traveling Exhibitions