Raqqa, “East of Raqqa” site – Western Palace, vegetable stucco ornaments. Syrian Heritage Archive.

This project was generously funded by the Canadian Council for the Arts

Raqqa Ware 2.0 (3D models) 2022

Raqqa ware 2.0 is an archive of 3D models that capture the life and death of 13th century Syrian Raqqa ware ceramics. Through its exuberant colors, ornaments and iconic glazed finishes, the zeitgeist of medieval Raqqa peaks through to show us its cultural presence among the few surviving pottery. Inspired by the form and function of Raqqa ware pottery, Raqqa ware 2.0 aims to revitalize the ancient pottery into a contemporary identity, not as a direct imitation, but as an attempt to capture the true essence, life force and originality of Raqqa ware. Through the 3D model archive, the spirit of Raqqa ware will once again be-reborn, into a digital life form free from destruction, with the potential to live in several contemporary identities. 

This project was consulted with Morehshin Allahyari

 This project has two writing responses by Dr. Laura U Marks and Theresa Wang

Tools: Houdini Side FX, Substance Painter, Substance Designer, Adobe Illustrator, Hand Rendered Drawings

The Garden Of Raqqa

Pot #001 - Plant Life

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To my grandfather, who inspired me to look at nature a little differently.

The lifecycle of Raqqa ware 2.0 begins with the subject of plant life. In a single petal of a flower, we can witness an entire universe unfolding itself. Petal after petal, stem after stem, flower after flower, rhythmically pulsating, coiling and stretching out beneath the ground. Agriculture has always been a force for livelihood in the history of Raqqa. From farmers across generations working with the soil and the river, to potters in the 13th century using the soil to craft quartz material for pottery. With their loosely, lively drawn flowers and nature-esque motifs, Raqqa potters captured the zeitgeist of the medieval city, preserving it onto the surface of the buried pots that await the excavators spade. Glazed ceramics provided a cladding resistant to fading in the strong desert sun. They provide relief from the desert heat through an appearance of wetness, and coolness to the touch (Damascus Tiles, PG. 15). The artists restless creativity reveals itself to the viewer through the absence of empty space, creating a horror vacui effect along with floral, vegetal and animals motifs and the infamous types of glazes that are at the heart of Raqqa ware identity. Within this connection, I pay homage once again to my grand father, who showed me the world of plant life. Growing up in Masyaf, Syria, I spent my childhood running across his wheat fields that flourished within his soft hands. The essence of Raqqa ware lies in vegetal and arabesque motifs, and the presence of aniconic motifs. This story of rebirth and growth is instilled in me and encapsulated into the first pot of Raqqa ware 2.0. This is " The Garden of Raqqa" and the timeline of the story begins at the cavetto (the neck of the pot), where spiralling seeds flow horizontally, coiling around the neck of the pot. The story of this pot is told through the motifs that are divided by horizontal bands that speak to the evolution of plant life through photosynthesis represented through Raqqa motifs. This growth symbolizes the repeated challenges that this agricultural land has withstood through the many tests of time. This story encapsulates the birth of nature’s cycle, which begins with spiraling seeds, followed by water drops, inverted around the neck of the pot as a band, gifting life to everything they touch, manifesting seeds into a band of butterflies pollinating. Small water ripples in an empty band of white acts as the divider into the final stage of plant life, a blossoming matrix of flowers that is infinitely stretching out underneath the ground. Its growth is invisible, like the pulse of the universe or like the deepest echoes of the ocean. This pot is underglaze painted with tones of chocolate brown and cobalt blue. On the inside the pot is overglazed in cobalt blue, as its function is to hold and pour water. The lip of the pot is slightly moulded to help the flow of water.


Pot #002 - Astronomy

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Raqqa was once considered the scene of the golden Islamic age, where craftsman, mathematicians, philosophers and astronomers flourished on its ground, studying its skies and absorbing its intellectual culture. "Eclipse" tells the story of one of the the greatest astronomers of the medieval Islamic world, Al Battani. As a skilled naked eye observer, the Arab astronomer lived and worked in Raqqa where he underwent specialized training in astronomy and mathematics, eventually building a private observatory in which he conducted observations from 877 to 918. In this undocumented observatory Al Battani conducted studies that significantly contributed to our knowledge of the skies today. Working in various instruments such as telescopes, astrolabes, gnomons, parallactic rulers and sundials. It was in Raqqa that Al Battani determined that the solar year is 365 days, and by recalculating celestial positions between the earth and the sun, he concluded how a solar eclipse occurs (Mohammad Abdullatif, Al-Battani Contributions in Astronomy and Mathematics). "Eclipse" celebrates Al Batani's observatory and the presence of medieval astronomy in Raqqa. The cavetto of the pot is decorated with diamond shaped stars, mimicking the way the stars shine at night. Curvy lines stretch out around the body of the pot mimicking the movement of planet orbs. Sprinkled dots in a variety of sizes, swirling commas, and quickly drawn lines meant to be comets passing by. The body is ornamented with double sided circles that each contain a filler with leaf in concentric circles as a night sky. The body is also decorated with both pseudo calligraphy (arabic letters) and epigraphic elements (the sun, the moon, the stars) . The pot is glazed in the iconic Raqqa black under turquoise glaze. "Eclipse" has a purely decorative function. It's reflective glaze shines under moonlight, so it is designed to sit outdoors.

The Waster

Pot #003 - Healing & Protection

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The identity of Raqqa ware spreads across the world due to undocumented excavations, stolen artefacts, unprotected archaeological sites, undocumented wasters, antique smugglers, to even copies of the ware. "The Waster" speaks to the various levels of destruction and growth the ware has gone through in its lifetime. The heavily restored identity of Raqqa ware, reveals to the viewer "the lengths collectors went to, in order to keep up with the high demand for Raqqa ware" (Marilyn Jenkins, Raqqa Revisited, Page 120). We witnessed top auction houses selling Raqqa ceramics within the last decade, proving that the lure for the ceramics is still alive. As the story for each ceramic gets retold, today there are no Raqqa pots available on the market until the next lot. I am almost relieved that the ceramics were looted to foreign hands because they are the only surviving pieces that we can look, study, and even bid/purchase. Buried under thirty feet of soil, laid the palace of Harun Al Rashid, which allegedly contained up to sixty unbroken Raqqa ware, known as "The Great Find" (Marilyn Jenkins, Raqqa Revisited, Page 16). The palace was discovered in 1903, when the first official excavation in Raqqa was carried out by the Imperial Museum of Istanbul. The museum was told about this area when a colony of Circassian refugees relocated to Raqqa under the Ottomans rule. In need of building materials for their housing, they were given permission to dig in the ruins, where to their surprise, perfectly preserved lustrous pots were awaiting their eyes. "The Waster" captures the moment when lustrous pots are discovered hidden within wasters, their iconic glaze disintegrating as they get buried in the sand. Only to be reborn into life through the hands of smugglers, who dug out the artefacts from the soil and disguised them as wasters with no value. The outside pot is a heavily restored object that reveals the practice of bringing together a variety of fragments easily found at Raqqa's archeological site, to reconstruct a single, more valuable object. The hidden pot in the inside is a perfectly preserved black under turquoise glaze. The cavetto is divided by bold simple horizontal bands, followed by a vegetal scroll. The body is ornamented with the iconic Raqqa bird motif, which is hosted in a vegetal roundel. The function of this waster is to protect perfectly preserved Raqqa wares.

Terminus Post Quem

Pot #004 - Mysticism

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As a city that was destroyed and rebuilt several times during its history, the mysteriousness of Raqqa has puzzled art historians and antiquarians. Animal motifs present on Raqqa pots are "vibrating with movement and skillfully drawn" (Venetia Porter, Medieval Syrian Pottery, Page 14). The animal motifs that are found in Raqqa ceramics are birds, dogs, leopards, and the infamous unknown prancing hare. Venetia Porter describes this hare as "arguably amongst the most proficient attempts at animal drawing by Islamic painters" (Venetia Porter, Medieval Syrian Pottery, Page 14). The motifs I chose in the 'Terminus Post Quem' pot reflects the multi-cultural influence that existed in Raqqa. The cavetto is filled with pseudo arabic calligraphy band that is written upside down, a feature that is present on several Raqqa wares. A triple guilloche hugs the body before introducing a very unique animal motif. I think the triple guilloche has a Roman and Italian influence, that reflects the reign of the crusaders in Raqqa. While the prancing hare appears to be Sasanian and Babylonian, in its aesthetic nature. This pot is a study of the glaze that remains unfinished. Antiquarians would classify this pot as a waster, because of its raw unpainted surface and unusually thick glaze that droops along the side. Although wasters were discarded, they actually played an important role in dating Raqqa ware to the 12th century. The function of the pot is purely decorative, as its an imperfect study of the glaze.

Everything Is In Orbit

Pot #005 - Religion

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The presence of Muslim caliphates influenced the value of craftsmanship throughout the religious history of Raqqa. Calligraphers and artists became prizes of war that would serve to strengthen their cultural value of their dynasty. The presence of religion in Raqqa wares is revealed with beautified scripture, that was either epigraphic or pseudo script. Epigraphic script, is legible Arabic that is from a religious scripture or sayings of good fortune such as "glory and prosperity". Pseudo script, is illegible text that serves to convey the aesthetic effect of Arabic scripture. It appears that the popularity of pseudo script was due to the number of secular Muslims and Christians that wanted to celebrate the beauty of Arabic calligraphy without the presence of literal religious context. I chose to portray a palindrome from the Quran that reads 'Everything Is In Orbit' and although, this sentence is from a literal religious context, my interpretation is that it speaks to the nature of the universe; everything is in orbit, everything is alive, everything is in motion. 'Everything Is In Orbit' captures the glorification of the Arabic script as a "universal vehicle of culture" (Arthur Lane, Early Islamic Pottery, Page 17). The elongated neck is divided by two bands of cobalt blue, the space in between sprinkled with dots, commas and swirls. The body is filled with a loosely drawn Arabic sentence that spreads around the pot, referencing an orbit. "Everything Is in Orbit" is inspired by the intentions of epigraphic and pseudo script techniques, which is why the text is legible yet distorted in scale. The playfully decorated spirals fill the empty space between the letters. Painted in chocolate brown and cobalt blue under a transparent glaze. The function of this pot is to hold and pour water.

The Ink Never Runs Dry

Pot #006 - Infinity

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Horror Vacui is one of the main characteristics of Raqqa ware. Known as the fear of empty space, this term was used to describe the visual intention of the artists who painted these ceramics. The desire to fill up space with decoration comes from the artists infinite sense of imagination. Life is temporary, while death, like the artists restless creativity, is infinite. "The Ink Never Runs Dry" is inspired by the endless creativity and imagination that is embedded within artistic craft. I chose to fill the space with miniature stars that "is there to reward the searching eye" (Arthur Lane, Early Islamic Pottery, Page 47). The function of this albarello is to hold ink. It is glazed in the classic Raqqa turquoise. Its glaze has been disintegrating over the years, as its imagined as an ancient pot that has been a tool for generations of artists. Black miniature ornaments painted under a disintegrated turquoise glaze.

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