A new cross-cultural exhibition by British-Pakistani artist Zarah Hussein has opened at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

Supported by the Arts Council of England, Symmetry in Sculpture has been inspired by the complex patterns emerging from the kind of simple, repeated shapes found in Islamic art.

By using a 3D printer, Zarah has made near-perfect resin moulds from which she has painted scores of plaster shapes.

The lines of colour are dead straight, even though Zarah hand-painted them over the course of a year with dark colours on top of light ones.

“I have been inspired by Islamic art and mathematical art, so this collection is like a space between two cultures – second and third generation people are trying to find out who they are and I think some very exciting work will emerge in the next 15 years because of super-hybridity,” says Zarah.

“It has been very methodical and calculated... anal, some would say.

“It’s so different, so new, so radically different from what I was doing before.

“I just made them all of the shapes out of paper to begin with.”

Even though each 3D mould cost £250, Zarah had to repeat the process of manufacture eight times to get it right.

Now she hopes her works might encourage people to explore maths in new ways.

“I wasn’t very good at maths at school and found it difficult,” she admits.

“I had a bad teacher one year and then found it hard to get back.

“But different people find different ways into the subject so it’s all about unlocking that ability.

“This is all about geometry and there is something about it that I can visualise.

“I have a twin brother who is very good at maths, and now I’ve got two twin three-year-old boys – everything I do is symmetrical!”

Before taking an MA in Islamic art in London, Zarah originally studied English and history at the University of Manchester.

“My dad didn’t want me to do art,” she says, proud of her achievement.

“He wanted me to have a good, academic degree.

“But, at 21, I thought I’m going to do an MA (on the visual Islamic and traditional art programme at the Prince’s School For Traditional Arts in London).

“It’s natural for immigrant parents to want the best for their children, but if you really want to do something, you will find a way to just do it.”

London-based Zarah, who was presented with the Mosaic award for Art and Culture by HRH Prince of Wales, is as fascinated to see her exhibits on the wall as some visitors heading for other galleries during its installation.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen them here,” she says.

“With the way the shadows are cast, they take on different shapes, depending where you look at them from.

“It’s nice to see them in this kind of big space.

“I just hope some of the Grayson Perry magic dust rubs off and that lots of people come to see them.”

* Symmetry in Sculpture is in Gallery 20 at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery until November 2. For details visit www.bmag.org.uk or www.zarahhussain.co.uk

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