We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


tracing transcendence



Shireen Taweel


1990 –

  • Details

    Place where the work was made
    Media categories
    Sculpture , Time-based art
    Materials used
    hand pierced copper, single channel sound file
    display dimensions variable, duration: 03:51:00 min continuous :

    a - copper band 1, 180 x 180 x 30 cm

    b - copper band 2, 210 x 210 x 30 cm

    c - copper band 3, 240 x 240 x 30 cm

    Purchased with funds provided by the Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2021
    North Building, lower level 1
    Accession number
    © Shireen Taweel

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Shireen Taweel

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Working almost exclusively with copper and using traditional coppersmithing techniques, Sydney-based artist Shireen Taweel pursues a materially driven inquiry into cultural heritage and identity. Commonly used in Islamic art, copper is a material that carries distinct symbolic weight. Hand-cutting intricate geometric Islamic decorative motifs into sheets of copper that are later shaped into three-dimensional sculptural forms, Taweel creates art historical echoes that draw from her own Lebanese heritage. Her works cite history through pattern and sensitively consider how the physical spaces of her community reflect a complex cultural landscape.

    tracing transcendence 2018–21, charts the history of mosques in Australia. The installation comprises three large suspended copper rings that have been meticulously hand-cut and pierced. This formidable sculptural trio is accompanied by a soundscape. The work speaks to the lineage of Islamic presence in Australia, the evocation of remote Australian landscapes and the nuances of Islamic decorative arts.

    Each ring in the trio derives from a different source. The designs etched into the smallest ring were inspired by the Mosque built by Afghan Cameleers in Broken Hill, NSW in 1887. Broken Hill’s ‘Ghantown’ mosque is the only one of its kind that has survived since Afghan Cameleers, otherwise known as ‘Ghans’, traversed and traded supplies in the Australian outback during the 1860s. The patterns etched into the copper ring quote the decorative sheets of pressed tin that line the interior walls of the mosque.

    The second, medium sized ring was inspired by the first mosque to be constructed in Australia in the remote South Australian town of Marree. While the site of this mosque is now reduced to a few eroded stumps in the South Australian desert, Taweel took inspiration from a Cameleer’s Coat held in the collection of the Migration Museum in Adelaide to inspire the design cut into this band. Both sites in NSW and SA are resonant and critical landmarks of Australian Islamic history.

    The third and largest copper ring speaks to an as yet unfixed site – a future Australian mosque. Sitting alongside tributes to historical contexts, this third ring is an response to the ongoing importance of the mosque as a cultural space within Australia and the strength and significance of the communities that it fosters. The patterns depicted in this ring have evolved from Taweel’s drawings rather than specific architectural features.

    A soundscape composed by Spencer Anthony Reid that accompanies tracing transcendence is reminiscent of the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, and is a compilation of field recordings made by the artist on location in Marree and Broken Hill. This sonic inclusion amplifies the ambient nature of the installation. For this is an experiential work; the intricacy of the patterns emerge as the visitor navigates the suspended forms. Though static, the work evokes movement. Shadows and the shock of light spill through the cut-outs. Here, history is animated and the past placed in dialogue with the present.

  • Places

    Where the work was made


  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

    • SOUL fury, Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria, 07 Aug 2021–30 Jan 2022

    • Making Worlds, Art Gallery of New South Wales, North Building, Sydney, 03 Dec 2022–2023