Islam Aly is an artist, teacher, and researcher. At Helwan University, Egypt he received a BA and an MA in Art Education; afterward, he graduated from the University of Iowa, with an MFA in Book Arts and a Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning with a concentration in Art Education. His books explore the possibilities of historical bindings in contemporary book art practice. He has combined book traditions with digital technologies. His work is created at the junction between culture, technology, and aesthetics.
When I make a historical book structure, I go through a learning process. I learn the history as well as the different physical aspects of the binding such as how a book form is constructed in a specific sequence. I learn about the use of different materials such as paper, wood, leather, and dyes. I learn to make choices in selecting and replacing traditional materials that I don’t have access to. I use these different experiences to enhance my work in making artists’ books and to use historical and cultural references from these structures in the actual content. In essence, I wish to explore new ways to use the rich structures of historical books in contemporary artists’ book practice and incorporate contemporary content into strictly historical structures.
Historically, these structures used a lot of text, either calligraphy or print, and they sometimes also included illustrations, illumination, and images. I explore different ways to add alternative content to these structures while keeping their appearance and integrity. I want to reuse these rich structures and give them a new life as artists’ books. I am using two main themes. The first is abstract, where I’ll explore texture, color, and form. The second is language; I am interested in the similarities and differences between English and Arabic languages. For example: writing, pronunciation, letterforms, and typography. I am also examining pieces where these themes will intersect through the use of material. In my work, I experiment with different techniques on handmade paper such as laser cutting, waxing, stitching, and paper dyeing. My book art reproduces familiar book structures that embody the heritage of book history but contain some of the wonders that can come from contemporary book art.