Every year during Eid Al-Fitr in Brunei, the Sultan of Brunei would open his palace to visitors for three days starting from the second day of Eid. The palace is open for all visitors, local or foreigners or tourists for a chance to greet the Sultan himself and his family personally, while getting treated to a fabulous buffet of Eid meal as well as a thank you gift from the Sultan (usually in the form of a greeting card) as well as a box of goodies to take back home. Obviously this is a golden chance for anyone and everyone to come and visit him, and see the Sultan eye to eye, and this has been one of the attraction for tourists to come to Brunei. Where in the world you can personally come to a ruler of a country, shook his hands and wish him a Selamat Hari Raya (Happy Eid), and get treated to a fantastic Eid spread, AND get a gift just for visiting? I think you would be very hard pressed to find another example of his unique relationship between a ruler and his people.
This year, I was not able to go to the celebrations (I did not go year after year anyway, because of the sheer number of the people visiting. It is said that the total number of visitors actually exceed the number of the population of Brunei!) because I was admitted to the hospital since about 25th of Ramadhan. However my oldest brother and my older sister gets the chance to go there every year for their work in the information sector of the government, and every year our cabinets will be full of these intricate boxes decorated with Malay and Islamic designs like the Celapa (traditional betel boxes) designed with Islamic geometric pattern as a decoration, and our refrigerators full of cakes usually given along with these boxes. Usually I would not take a second look at these boxes ; simply because I was not really that interested, and most of the Islamic design used were pretty badly executed, it made me cringe just looking at it . But this year the design quite piqued my interest.
The colours were the usual colour palette used by the creative team of the Palace – Yellow being the main colour year after year (being the Royal Colour of the Sultanate) and another secondary colour, in this case a dark emerald green. However, it was not the colours that attracted my attention – it was the pattern. The pattern was the classic 12 pointed star arranged in in a six-fold pattern, that is a pattern based on hexagonal grid. The top cover looks promising enough with the pattern featured prominently superimposed with a variation of a traditional kain Tenunan pattern popular in BRunei. The label Istana Nurul Iman, the Sultan’s palace, a silhouette logo of the palace as well as a Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri was embossed in the middle in a gold tone. Looks promising so far, maybe finally the designers did the Islamic pattern right this time?
However, taking a look on the sides, things are looking suspicious. That line separating the white diamond shapes all around the twelve pointed stars are beginning to annoy me as I slowly study the pattern . In the middle of each star is the common Malay songket/tenunan pattern called Tampok Manggis (Mangosteen Base) which is executed nicely.
Turn the box over to its back, and the nightmare begins.
Oh, such horror! fellow Islamic art aficionados, students and OCDs, divert your gaze from such a disgrace!
Alright, it might not be as a dramatic of a mistake, but just take a look at it! Don’t tell me no bone is your body is ticked looking at the glaringly unharmonious design?
Some of you might say, well I don’t see the problem to it. But I disagree, as a student of Islamic art, this is quite a common mistake. The problem actually lies in the tessellation of the pattern. The designer, instead of logically using the Six-fold pattern of tessellation, which better suits six and twelve pointed star patterns, he or she chooses to use a grid of eight-fold pattern, and therefore creates a problem in the pattern.
It creates this unbalanced shapes in between the stars – an imperfect square, a crossed out diamond, disjointed, unequal lines creating an overall unharmonious pattern overall. Try to trace a line – you will hit unnecessary corners and bumps, unlike when you use a proper six-fold pattern to tessellate the stars. This is because the lines are not equal!
Also it doesn’t help the stars were stretched horizontally, creating a bloated looking star as well as the imperfect squares between the stars become imperfect rectangles.
So, what would be the solution, you might ask? Take a look at my diagram below and you will see how the pattern is very different form the usual, more harmonious use of the twelve star pattern.
If you used a six-fold pattern, or a grid of hexagrams, you can see the stars actually interlocks with each other, so that there is no weird shapes in between the stars. There are only triangles made by each points of the stars, so there would not be any square shapes made from the pattern (you can see here what I mean by the interrupted, unequal lines I mentioned earlier)
The dark green diagram shows how you would tessellate the pattern in a hexagonal pattern. You can see here all the points of the stars match each other. The lighter green uses the same basis, however there is a space in between the stars. This is usually filled by triangles, which will then create a running line between the stars. This is the case for the cover of the box, which uses the same pattern.Here are two of the classic examples of the pattern I mentioned above. Try to compare the classical mathematically correct version to the box version, and you will see how the lines works better here. These examples were taken from the Alhambra.
The pattern from the entrance to the palace of Comares, Alhambra
I have to applaud the work and the creativity of the designer though for his or her effort to combine the aesthetics of Islamic and Malay design in such a gorgeous package, but I hope to see a proper, mathematically correct and harmonious Islamic art used in the future.