In our current society we often hear that the Middle East and the West are two completely different societies with conflicting cultures, but in fact, Middle Eastern and Western cultures have much more in common than we may think. These similarities are evident in the art exhibition Geometric Aljamía (displayed at Chapman University on the second floor of Argyros Forum). The exhibition is the result of a cross cultural art project that began in 2013 at the Virginia Commonwealth University. Professors from the University started the project because they wanted to compare the way visual arts are seen in Islamic and Western cultures in order to reveal the overlapping historical and cultural connections. The project took off quickly and soon enough, artists from around the world were coming to contribute at the workshop.

Jorge Benitez who is an assistant professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University is one of the founding artists of the Geometric Aljamía project. Benitez has a Master of Fine Arts degree and is versed in numerous disciplines. He is skilled in painting, drawing, and printmaking, and is knowledgeable about art history, critical theory, communication arts practices, and linguistic art. For the exhibition, Benitez made paper cut pieces and perspective drawings that focus on Islamic patterning and geometry. By showing Islamic visual motifs through a western perspective system he is merging the discoveries of the two cultures, while pointing out the ongoing impact of Middle Eastern philosophy, science, and mathematics on the visual arts of the West.


(detail), Jorge Benitez, 2013, graphite on arches paper

Another one of the main goals of the exhibit is to show the underlying universal elements in artwork across multiple cultures. Through the exhibit, the artists demonstrate that nothing can be reduced to complete opposites because there are fundamental traits common amongst all cultures, objects, and beings. For example, Benitez highlights the sacred geometry and the mathematical foundations that create the patterns in his work. In addition, he emphasizes how form and design are ubiquitous in art of the Middle East and the West. By making these comparisons he is showing the cross cultural fertilization that exists between the Middle East and the West. In fact, the word Aljamía
is a medieval Spanish word that refers to the concept of Eastern and Western hybridization. This exhibition works to counter the divisions that have been made between the Middle East and the West by showing that traditions that may appear at first sight to be incompatible may actually have a number of similarities.


(detail), Jorge Benitez, 2013, graphite on aches paper

Jorge Benitez will be speaking at Clear-cut: The Point of Papercuts, a panel discussion on the art of papercuts at Chapman University. The panel will take place on Monday November 7th from 6:00 -7:30 pm in the Bush Conference Center located in Beckaman Hall Room 404. The panel is free and open to all; no RSVP is required. Participants of the panel also include Reni Gower, Bovey Lee, Chris Natrop, and Margaret Sosa.

Stay tuned for more blog posts featuring our panelists!

Please contact Esther Shin at or 714-628-2832 for more information.

We are grateful to the Escalette Permanent Art Collection Endowment for generously supporting this program.