Five Contemporary Artists and the Art of the Word
28 June - 22 July 2006
An exhibition exploring the place of text in the work of five leading artists of the Arabic-speaking world. A love for the divine word has been at the very heart of Islam since the first transcribing of the Qur'an. Writing is practised as an act of sacred devotion, with every verse, word and letter holding seven layers of esoteric meaning, beyond the surface text.
The occult properties of letters are invoked by Rachid Koraïchi in his work. Born into a Sufi family, Koraïchi explores the writings of early mystics such as Rumi, Ibn ‘Arabi and al-'Attar through his practice. Working with textiles, steel, ceramics, paper, rose petals and light, he creates a language of signs by drawing from Arabic scripts, Berber and Tuareg Tifinagh characters, magical squares, talismanic numbers and imaginary Japanese and Chinese ideograms.
Hassan Massoudy speaks of how, through the rhythm of his work, letters ‘unfold as the leaves unfurl when the seed becomes a tree’. He draws text from writers as diverse as Charles Baudelaire, Virgil and Ibn ‘Arabi, and transcribes their work with a profound sense of balance, perceiving the line as ’a dynamic force… [which] must reflect two things: on the one hand strength and vigour, on the other abandon and grace'.
Text is a thread that runs through Fathi Hassan’s work with video, photography, performance, painting and installation. Often overlaying photographic images, his writings resemble the Kufic script of Arabic, yet remain resolutely illegible, reminding us of the dangers of trusting the written word, and the fragility of the bond between text and meaning. He evokes a long history of language as an instrument of power, drawing in particular Nubia’s history of colonisation and the resulting displacement of indigenous languages.
As an artist, curator and scholar, Wijdan's connections with the written word are many. She describes her recent work as ‘calligraffiti’, a reference to the Calligraphic school which provides her with 'a form of artistic identity through which I am able to …establish my individuality as a contemporary Arab and Islamic artist'. Her Karbala series features single Arabic letters as memorials to the seventh century martyrdom of the Prophet's grandson Hussein. ‘I chose Karbala’ she explains ‘because I saw a hundred past Karbalas and fear a thousand more to come'.
Laila Shawa's work is also explicitly informed by her perceptions of injustice, specifically in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Using silk-screen printing and off-set lithography, she overlays photographic records of political graffiti from the walls of Gaza with bold colour and form. Palestinian factions during the first intifada employed graffiti as a vehicle of protest, an affirmation of community, and a means of recruitment. Rapidly over-painted by Israeli security forces, these ephemeral messages of resistance are captured by Shawa, and given permanence, emphasis and circulation through her work.