During my final year in college, in 2019-20, I did my thesis project on converting a historic building into an art museum, taking up an old building built in 1936 as my site. This building was located in the old part of the historic Calicut city, facing the beach, though the project was hypothetical. I researched into its various aspects and potential, spending rewarding days working on it.
If this was a hypothetical design that existed only in my mind and the visuals I submitted to my supervisors, a real one was in wait. A year later, one day, a dear friend and teacher, Noushad called me to ask if I’m interested in doing an interior project of a studio and exhibition space for Doha based calligrapher Kareemgraphy, in the same building I chose for my thesis project. I knew how spaces invite us back.
When I first met Kareemgraphy to discuss the interior concept, the discussion was all about his beautiful journey to Turkey, in search of deeper calligraphic insight and seeking masters, and he was full of praise for the places, people, food, art and architecture. His major requirement was, Kagrart’s space has to be a reflection of the spiritual experience he felt during his travels in Istanbul and other places. On the other hand, I had to work with a historic building located in a city with rich history and culture.
Kagrart’s interior is conceptualised based on this symbolic symbiosis of the Islamic global and the historic local: how the space can be experienced with different senses. Mood Boards were developed with respect to the visual – colors, patterns, lighting and finishes; tactility – wall textures and floor finish; the sound you experience and the odour of oudh.
Sandstone red is the primary color used all over the space. The color is inspired from the Mughal architecture which brings in an Islamic aura to the space that goes well with arches and aged wooden finishes. Also, the tiny handmade tiles with beautiful floral designs inspired from the Moroccan architecture are fixed on a linear pattern which helps you guide your eyes into the detail. The color red creates an excitement as per the classic color psychology in architecture. The Turkish lamps and the lighting set a perfect ambience in enjoying the space.
The grains on the walls and the ‘blue waves’ on the door frame is an abstract of the cultural exchange between the seafaring Arab traders and the locals through the sea, which later influenced the evolution of various Malabari art forms and cuisine. Apart from that, the furniture, doors and windows follow an aged wooden character which brings in a rustic style.
The exhibition space is an amalgamation of the existing building elements with the stunning mural inspired from the concept of Siderat al Muntaha on the two walls acting as a boundary. Sidrat al Muntaha, the mystical “tree of life” that stands at the gates of heaven in Sufi literature, is full of enchanting leaves upon which names of lovers are written on both sides. Those who loved each other with a true heart on the earth meet under the shades of those leaves in heaven.
The exhibition space is designed in a way that it becomes an exhibit by itself even when no art is displayed. Also it breaks the concept of typical gallery design known as white cube. The unique design elements of the building includes how the traditional truss work and timber beams are exposed on the ceiling, the exposed brick works etc. The false ceiling is designed in an arch shape inspired from the dome, which helps in attaining the existing double height of the room.
The flooring is covered by laying Persian carpets of different designs bringing floral patterns on the floor; also it encourages people to sit on the floor.
The Malabari vintage furniture and artefacts are well placed on each nook and corner adding a bold statement of the potentiality of each and every discarded item and how they contribute into the aesthetics.
Altogether, Kagrart studio is a spatial art that merges various design elements forming a unique, yet beautiful piece of art of itself. I personally prefer calling Kagra a piece of art done in a three-dimensional canvas.