Just one of the casualties of current political calamities is the underestimation of how impactful Islam has been on world knowledge. Hardly mentioned is that by the 8th century, an expanded Islamic Empire had fought and won its way to regional supremacy, paving the way for a privileged era of discovery and intellectual prowess. The debt of influence that science, technology and culture owe Middle Eastern civilisations is a story lost to contemporary concerns about extremism and national security.
An appetite for a closer connect to this cultural past motivates much of Iranian German designer Siba Sahabi’s research. Over the years the Rietveld Academie graduate has presented projects that reflect her roots: she has explored the earliest pottery turntables invented in 3500 BC in Ur, a city in ancient Mesopotamia (present-day southern Iraq), and has experimented with some of the earliest manmade pigments developed in Egypt to imitate the brilliant blue hues created from rare and expensive lapis lazuli stones.
Her latest project, Obscura is a limited series of photographic sculptures. For the pieces she pierced between one and three tiny holes into steel, copper and brass slabs, painting them with a photographic emulsion fluid. These she assembled into abstract pyramid shapes, and using the principles of camera obscura (pinhole camera), captured images of modern Cairene architecture. The camera was then disassembled, and the triangles developed in a darkroom and then reassembled inside-out into sculptures with the caught images on the outside facade.
Operating as both apparatus and art, Obscura is a homage to scientist and philosopher Alhazen, who lived and worked in Cairo about 1,000 years ago. Alhazen is considered to be the father of optics and his work and findings have always been a big influence on Sahabi, who says:
Alhazen made significant contributions to the principles of visual perception. Originally it was assumed that the eye worked as a sort of invisible hand that reached out and grabbed information. Alahzen used camera obscura as a metaphor to describe how humans actually perceive space and his research went on to have a tremendous influence on European artists and linear perspective because before precise representations on a two-dimensional surface could be achieved, the Italian Renaissance artists first had to understand how the human eye perceives a three-dimensional image.