• 2013 (February 6th / April 25th)
  • end performance on April 25th 2013 (11 am local time)
  • Link: Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilistion
  • Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
  • Material: sand gathered from about 200 countries / places of the world
  • Size: 9 * 3,6 meters
  • over 540 hours labor (incl. preparations)
  • Photo: R. v. Luttervelt
  • Video: T. Goris (click the button Hover over the work)


The title ‘Rihla', a classical Arab term of a journey, has many links with the project ‘Sammlung Weltensand'.

Both in terms of content and material as well as the essence of the ornaments.
Traveling and ‘sand souvenirs' are the basic conditions and requirements for this work.
‘Rihla' has a connotation of a voyage undertaken for the sake of the divine knowledge as well as for nomadic traveling around.
In this sense, the term ‘Rihla' refers also to the contrast between the traditional nomads and the modern nomads, the tourists of the 21st century.

The traditional nomad does not travel, he is on the move. He is on the move from sojourn to sojourn. The purpose of being on the move lies in himself, it is his identity.
The sense of time is embedded in the present.

The purpose of the traveling of a modern nomad is the arrival, he is looking forward to the arriving and he desires to be transported in a minimal amount of time from point A to point B.

When you put these two ways of being on the road in perspective with the nature of the patterns and the ways of looking at them, an interesting comparison can be revealed.

The visitor is kindly invited, even encouraged, to experience this work as a traditional nomad. For as a tourist, the eyes probably jump from center to center like sightseeing, and so the transience and the dynamics of the pattern will remain unrevealed.
What remains is the derivation of the universal ornament to a static, yet beautiful, decoration.
But as a nomad, the experience can be contemplative and dedicated to the inner movement. The eyes glide over the field of patterns and follow the lines. Micro- and macro structures appear, centers emerge like a sojourn. You rest for a while and then continue the journey.

Rihla - A Sammlung Weltensand installation
For the first time in the Middle East, the internationally renown, German-Dutch artist Elvira Wersche will develop her latest installation ‘Rihla' exclusively at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization from February 6th to April 25th, 2013.
Fascinated by the diversity of colour and mineral composition found in sand from around the world, for the last ten years Elvira Wersche has focused her artistic creativity on constructing complex geometric patterns inspired by Islamic art from that deceptively simple yet, to her, fascinating medium. Since then, she has collected innumerable samples of world sands  and built up a collection of many different types of natural soil, derived from sands as well as different rocks formations - the Weltensand (world sands) collection.  All the samples collected, either by herself or by friends, have a different natural colour and are labeled with precise information about the original location in which they were found, the person who collected them and their particular colouristic shades. All sample data are kept in a database and the find spots can be viewed on the internet on a so-called geo map.
Elvira Wersche explains her fascination for sand in these terms:  ‘Through working with sand, I am aware that it could be mere dust and dead matter, but the sand changes completely when it is sifted;  the colours change, the sand is freed of its dust-like character and it becomes radiant with an inner glow. The samples come from all over the world and represent more than one thousand places, holy sites or places of historical significance. Each is documented with a note or photograph by the sender.'

Elvira's fascination with sand is not merely an aesthetic one, though. To her, the sands of the world hold the mystery of eternity and represent the transient history of the earth.
Elvira says:  ‘I see sand as holding the wisdom of the cosmic origin of our planet, being the memory of the earth, layer after layer preserving the traces of ephemeral human existence'.
For Sharjah, Elvira Wersche has created a unique, unprecedented design inspired by Islamic geometric patterns, entitled ‘Rihla', The Journey.  The title not only refers to the often far-away origins of the materials used and the gradual, conceptual evolution of the final design with its countless ornaments. The term ‘ Rihla' also has connotations  of nomadic travel and, at a much higher plain, a journey undertaken for the sake of divine knowledge and seeking God.  In this sense, ‘Rihla' at the same time stands in clear contrast to rather superficial, contemporary approaches to particularly touristic travel in the 21st century, characterized by the desire to be transported in a minimal amount of time from point a to point b and to arrive as quickly as possible. When you think of these two distinct ways of travelling in relation to the interconnected patterns of the artwork and look at them while keeping those different journeys in mind, interesting parallels emerge between the concept of ‘Rihla' and the artwork.

Viewing the installation with the eye of the rushed tourist may lead to jumping from design to design quickly and superficially in the manner of touristic sightseeing. This way, the transience and the inner, spiritual dynamics of the pattern will remain unrevealed. The abstract geometry of the design appears as no more than a beautiful, complex ornament.

Elvira invites her audience to transcend this superficial approach and follow the path of those who travel for traveling's sake, those whose journeys have deeper spiritual meaning. This way, the artwork provides a contemplative experience and reveals its inner movement. The eye glides over the field of patterns and follows the lines in an immersive fashion. Hidden micro-and macrostructures appear, centers emerge like a sojourn. You rest for a while to contemplate and then continue the meditative journey.

Elvira says: ‘When I prepare a project,  I take many factors into account – the venue, its history, the cultural conditions, the occasion and the theme of the event. Geometric abstraction provides the inspiration for the layout. The circle is always the starting point of the pattern design. Then I create a dynamic geometric field through the complex division of an ever-recurring circle and a multitude of linear associations. From what initially appears to be a jumble of lines and figures,  an ingenious and fascinating spectacle made up of triangles, pentagons, rhombuses and other shapes gradually unfolds before the viewer's eyes. An unlimited world of living forms made from sand reveals itself as a gift from nature, a cosmic gift made manifest through the media of Islamic art and mathematics. The original circle loses its dominance, numerous focal points appear and create movement. The pattern seems to be in constant motion. These so essential features of Islamic patterns are fascinating and they inspire me in my artwork. For the visitors, it means that each time they change their viewing position, depending from which place and in which direction they look, the work offers up new and different forms and layers in the pattern. A field of tension and energy is created, in which reflective visitors may immerse themselves and follow their very own, inner journey.

After completion, the ‘Rihla' art installation will remain on show at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization until late April. It will then be obliterated by artistic intervention and with involvement of the public. All the sands are mixed together into one and given away to remind us that everything in this life is in constant flux, everything is temporary.

Dr Ulrike Al-Khamis

SMIC/ SMD Strategic Advisor - Islamic and Middle Eastern Arts


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