The Mashrabiya Project

November 4, 2022 – February 18, 2023

Curator: Jennifer-Navva Milliken

Hoda Tawakol, Mashrabiya #5, from the “Idolatry” series, 2017. Wood. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Al-Sukkariya Ottoman House, Disaster Relief Project, Cairo, Egypt, 2012. Photo: Jarosław Dubrowolski, ARCHiNOS Architecture

The Mashrabiya Project is a community-focused, shared experience that links the ancient heritage of the mashrabiya, an ancient screening element that has become integral to Islamic architecture, to responses in art and design that reflect considerations of space and seeing in contemporary life. At a time of global uncertainty, the Project—the first in the U.S. to examine the mashrabiya as both an architectural object and a locus of metaphor—presents an opportunity for dialogue and connection across cultural and geographic borders.With its artful geometry and elaborate perforated designs, the mashrabiya became a defining element of Islamic visual culture and ornament. The mashrabiya of North Africa—fabricated of wood, which can expand and contract in response to the region’s intense climate—are found in quotidian and sacred spaces alike. Comprised of thousands of simple, individually lathe-turned components, they are assembled without glue or fasteners to create large, scalable elements and furnishings that are complex and ornate in design. These serve many functions, from permitting screening and ventilation, to delineating spaces for public and private life, to separating male and female members of a household in accordance with purity laws. Bountiful in metaphorical evocations, particularly circulating around dualities of public and private; subject and viewer; denial and reclamation of space; and the porosity of boundaries, the mashrabiya is an enduring symbol both of Islam’s cultural heritage and of the perpetually evolving nature of religion in society.

Susan Hefuna, Knowledge Is Sweeter than Honey, 2013. Wood and black ink. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

The Project will comprise a number of projects and programs circulating around the creation of a wood-turned mashrabiya in the Center’s main gallery. Also on view is an exhibition of commissioned art responding to the societal and cultural concepts evoked by the mashrabiya, as well as immersive augmented-reality “gallery” views of Islamic heritage sites and a hospitality space for readings and performances. The project will be accompanied by the first English-Arabic language publication dedicated to a scholarly examination of mashrabiya.

The Mashrabiya Project evokes the Center’s origins as a nexus for wood turning and a space for communal practice. As such, it reaches across space and time to embody our mission to interpret, nurture, and champion creative engagement, honoring the Center’s first makers while creating new dialogues between new audiences, and across continents, toward global engagement and understanding. The mashrabiya provides a viewpoint, from one space to another; likewise, The Mashrabiya Project links spaces and cultures framed by discussions of architecture, art, craft, and community.


The Mashrabiya Project has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.