Karen Dabrowska

Arab Weekly Article

Originally published: 6th November 2016

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The Writing of Art showcased in London

The Writing of Art offers glimpse into contemporary approaches influenced by traditional arts based on Arab and Persian scripts.


Tunisian artist Khaled Ben Slimane at work.

Tunisian artist Khaled Ben Slimane at work. He is one of the participants in The Writing of Art exhibition in London. (ceramicstoday.com)

London - The use of written words as an art form is beautifully displayed in The Writing of Art exhibition at London’s Ismaili Centre, part of the Nour Festival, which highlights the best in contemporary arts and culture from the Middle East and North Africa.

The Writing of Art offers a glimpse into contemporary approaches influenced by traditional arts based on Arab and Persian scripts, bringing together the works of Arab, Iranian and British artists. Their creations range from small framed works to large pieces that hang from the top of the gallery walls and reach the floors.

“We wanted to provide a flavour of contemporary art that makes use of calligraphy and provide the artists with an opportunity to display their work in London,” said Amin Abdullah Pardhan, chairman of Art and Cultural Activities at the Ismaili Centre.

“The Ismaili Centre originally planned to display a selection of work by the Iranian film-maker and photographer Abbas Kiarostami but his sudden death prevented this. That was when London-based curator Rose Issa stepped in and provided us with a selection of works for The Writing of Art exhibition from her collection. Other artists also came forward to offer their work. Hanieh Delecroix brought her creations from Paris.”

The exhibition venue, a space previously used by the Zamana Gallery, is a quiet contemplative area that creates the ideal environment for a moving poetic dialogue between art and letters weaving culture and history together.

The flowing, decorative designs of Tunisian studio potter and painter Khaled Ben Slimane contrast with the precise geometrics and logically inspired designs of British artist Graham Day. The allegorical visual poetry of Katayoun Rouhi and the versatile brushes of Farnaz Jahanbin are presented alongside Parastou Forouhar’s challenging and zoomorphic calligraphic drawings to suggest a historical-cultural narrative that is continually processing cross-cultural influences.

“Two colours are predominant in my work: blue and black. The lines are the very core of the work of both: the artist and the clinician. I write my work.” Delecroix explained.

A Paris-based artist who, in addition to studying at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, has a doctorate in psychology, Delecroix’s practice in clinical psychology informs her work in sculpture and painting. The relationship between the mind and body, especially the mind of a damaged body, is central to her art. Shades of black and blue predominate in her paintings, particularly intense hues of cobalt, ultramarine and cerulean that she usually applies with a palette knife in sweeping strokes.

Describing the inspiration for his work, Ben Slimane, an instructor at the National Ceramics Centre in Tunis, said his artistic practice is founded in his quest for spirituality and is inspired by Andalusian themes and the Berber traditions of Sedjenane and Djerba. He choreographs letters, words and Quranic verses in an intimate and rhythmic dance.

However, Ben Slimane insisted he was not a calligrapher. “I was invited to the Idemitsu Museum of Arts in Tokyo where I took courses with master Japanese calligraphers,” he said. “I learned a lot about methods of concentration and manipulation of the brushes. Back in Tunis, I used Arabic letters with Japanese calligraphy techniques, which gives my writing more air, space and freedom and makes it more spatial.”

Day said careful study of the calligraphic detail found in the 17th-century Shaykh Lutfallah mosque in Isfahan led him to realise that altering the mosaics from a regular square into an unfamiliar shape could reorient the play of surfaces and renew the experience of the text and its meaning.

“I produced a series of works that took texts from the same mosque and arranged them into unfamiliar shapes to generate the same enhanced concentration thus allowing the reader to look with new eyes and re-appreciate familiar texts,” Day said.

Persian for beginners is a series of calligraphic drawings that Forouhar made in 1997 when she was a member of the German-based artist collective Fahrrad Halle, during which she became “the Iranian” in the group. The enforced ethnic identification was a challenge for Forouhar that she turned into a source of creativity. “Looking back I would say that Persian for beginners instantly highlighted my desire for cordial understanding,” she reflected.

Issa, the exhibition’s curator who also edited Signs of Our Times: From Calligraphy to Calligraffiti, said the usage of Arabic and Persian script is the main common language of the participating artists.

“They use words. They use the morphology of the letter because they want to express themselves in their own language or they think their language is beautiful or sacred or the morphology of it can transmit another visual culture,” she wrote.