A Videogame Explores the Beauty and Geometry of Islamic Art
A digital spirograph celebrates the elegant geometric aesthetic of Islam.
Art and mathematics share an essential, millenary relationship. From the golden ratio and theories on the vanishing points within paintings, spectacular works of Cubism, to the impossible objects of M. C. Escher, that relationship has resulted in artworks of both beauty and elegance. But if we add another factor to the equation, technology, we find examples that take on another dimension entirely. This is the case with Engare, a videogame which uses mathematical, artistic, and architectural elements to create a kind of virtual puzzle which challenges users to emulate geometric bodies with patterns referring clearly to the aesthetics of the art and architecture of Islam.
The game’s creator is a 24-year old Iranian, Mahdi Bahrami. Engare emerged from his deep love for mathematics, but even more so, for geometry. It’s no surprise that the creator’s mind was able to find, in forms, something that not all of us perceive. “When I see these mathematical shapes in a mosque or some other places, I feel like I can see the rules behind it, I can see the mathematics of it,” he said in an interview.
The game works like this: the user chooses a previously created structure and then emulates it using tools (similar to those of a spirograph). These, in turn, bend or move, making geometric patterns. The beauty of Engare is never overshadowed by the seeming cold of its mathematical precision. The highly visual quality is what makes it, despite being a game of exact geometries and measures, an aesthetic exercise rather than a technical one. In the end, it’s a game about art, full of details and delicate curves.
The purpose of the game was never to spread Islamic art, but Bahrami has accepted the idea of reminding the world that the cultures of the Middle East don’t only celebrate war and violence. He shows that their art is among the most sophisticated in the world. While the video game proudly includes characters and numbers in Persian, the art of the region differs still further Western art. The most obvious way is in its resistance to representations of humankind and most other living beings (a religious restriction). This is one reason for the great abstraction of Islamic artistic expression.
Unlike most video games – with simulations of war, races or sports games full of strange caricatures – Engare stands out as an ode to art. Its geometric towers, mosques and mosaic-covered surfaces remind us of the mysterious, deeply emotional language of mathematics.
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