Modern & Contemporary Middle East

The Art of Calligraphy

By Roxane Zand

T his Sunday at New Bond Street at 1.30pm there will be a talk and private tour relating to The Art of Calligraphy. Ahead of that we take a look at the history of this tradition...

Calligraphy is a time-honoured artistic and literary tradition of the Middle East. No sale would be complete without a reference to the modern interpretations of it. In the words of our expert Mai Eldib, “We are privileged to be offering a variety of works that demonstrate the breadth of the art of calligraphy throughout the Middle East. In our upcoming London sale we have five that incorporate calligraphy:

The earliest work is by Omar El Nagdi from 1960 which is the artist’s first experimentation with calligraphy. It was executed after his extended education in Russia, when he felt the need to paint in a more authentic style. Using the word ALLAH and repeating it to form the snail shape of the letter H in Arabic, the artist attempts to emulate the motion of the whirling dervishes and their Sufi practice. Another work from the 1960s – by Charles Hossein Zenderoudi – from the Saqqaheneh period, not only incorporates Arabic letters but also embodies aspects of the artist’s philosophy and personal interest in cosmology which has historically been tied to calligraphy in the Middle East.

In a more contemporary framework, a composition by Farhad Moshiri has played extensively with calligraphic writing and numerology. Famous for his Jug series, Moshiri has brought together the contemporary and the calligraphic in a most powerful way. The fusion of tradition and modernity is seen even more effectively in the work of Azra Aghighi Bakhshayeshi, a descendent of famous court calligrapher Mirza Karim Khoshevish Tabhari. She is the only professional female calligraphic artist working in Iran. While inspired by Islamic writings, the heart of her practice is not religion but the visual and compositional impact which speaks to any viewer from region with its rich historical references and framework. The title of the work is Noor – which translates to Light – aptly conveying the message of art as a universal message. Finally, a work by Samir Sayegh plays on the abstract rendition of the word Allah, with the customary repetition that is attached to meditation. Together, these works clearly establish that calligraphy in the modern context has a defined place in the oeuvre of Middle Eastern artists.”


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