Karen Dabrowska

Arab Weekly Article

Originally published: 15th July 2018

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‘Visual Sufi master’ Koraichi exhibits artworks in London

As well as Arabic calligraphy there are symbols, glyphs and ciphers drawn from a wide variety of languages and cultures.


Rachid Koraichi - Masters of Time

London - Algerian multimedia artist Rachid Koraichi likens his latest series of work, on display in London’s October Gallery, to a dhikr – a form of devotion in Sufism in which the worshipper is absorbed in the rhythmic repetition of the name of God and his attributes.

There are 28 square panels in the “Masters of Time” exhibition in which Koraichi explores the ethereal qualities of the colour blue. In his book, “Eternity is the Absence of Time,” Koraichi says: “Always connected with the heavens, it is the colour of invisibility… a strange notion – perhaps – but if you look at the sea – it’s blue! Yet, cup a handful of seawater in your hand and the blue is gone!”

The exhibition consists of 14 round textile works with white and black writing on a blue background and as many square ceramic plates with blue shapes and letters on a white background. The circle is symbolic of the host in the Christian religion and the square is symbolic of the Kaaba.

As well as Arabic calligraphy there are symbols, glyphs and ciphers drawn from a wide variety of languages and cultures. Signs and symbols from civilisation’s oldest languages are abstracted and deconstructed to create a new visual vocabulary.

Exhibition curator Rose Issa said Koraichi worked in different media always in collaboration with the best artisans and craftsmen in the countries he has visited as well as with contemporary poets, “free spirits and liberators of their own countries,” such as Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

“The works in the exhibition may be minimalist but they are very refined. They may look simple but they are intricate, sophisticated and sombre. Rachid is a visual Sufi master, full of a desire to share his knowledge of the beauty of this world with us,” Issa added.

“When I do this work, I am in a time that does not belong to the past or the future,” Koraichi said. “I am living in that time itself. Doing the work is like being in a church or a mosque and having prayer beads. Each bead represents a prayer. These works are like those prayers.

“I never plan or make a drawing of my work. It all starts from a dot and I can’t stop until I finish the work. I am in a state where everything comes to me until I finish that work and then I stop,” Koraichi said.

The word hob (“love”) is often seen in the works. “It is written in reverse like a mirror image and refers not only to the love of God but also the love of your children and your family. Love for me represents the love of humanity,” Koraichi explained.

Referring to his Arabic writing, which is always in reverse like a mirror image, Koraichi said: “I want to tell you a story about a mirror. Rumi [a 13th-century Persian Muslim poet and Sufi mystic] said the truth is like a mirror that has fallen from the sky and has broken into small pieces. Everybody who holds a piece thinks they hold the truth but the truth is multiple, diverse and scattered.”

About his notion of time the artist said: “In the desert they say Western people have watches. We in the desert have time. Eternity is the absence of time. Different cultures have different notions of time. The Christians have divided time into before and after Christ. For the Arabs there is no such structure of time.”

On whether his work contains a central message, Koraichi stated in the exhibition’s catalogue: “I think it would be pretentious of me to claim that I’m trying to transmit any one particular message. Music, a parallel art form, can have great complexity and beauty without being ‘programmatic’ or containing any specific message. My work evidently has an aesthetic component and some of the elements I use repeatedly can be vessels for specific thoughts or meanings that I wish to communicate. But there is nothing like an overriding position or a political message. I have to allow each viewer to receive what I have done in his or her own particular way. While each person sees the same work they might well have different interpretations of its meaning.”

Born in Ain Beida, Algeria, in 1947, Koraichi lives in Tunisia and France. In 2011, he won the Jameel Prize at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, exhibiting seven large-scale banners from the “Invisible Masters” series.

His work is represented in major public collections, including the British Museum; the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, New York; the Newark Museum, New Jersey; the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris; the Museum of Modern Art, Cairo; the National Museum Gallery, Amman; the Miami Art Museum; and the National Museum of African Art, Washington.

“Masters of Time” is on display at the October Gallery through July 28.