For the first time in Hong Kong, the work of more than a dozen influential artists from the Middle East will offer a rare glimpse into the contemporary Arab and Iranian art worlds. Written Images: Contemporary Calligraphy from the Middle East, curated by noted art historian Karin von Roques, explores the role of traditional Islamic calligraphy and symbols in the contemporary Middle Eastern consciousness.
Arabic calligraphy in all its aesthetic and linguistic complexity is little understood beyond the Middle East and often regarded as an historical art form belonging to the classic Islamic arts. Yet it plays an important role in contemporary Arab and Iranian art.
Artists including Egyptian Ahmed Moustafa, Iraqi Hassan Massoudy and Tunisian Nja Mahdaoui were among the first to look at writing from an entirely new perspective and reposition calligraphy in the contemporary context. Dr. Moustafa’s research is based on mathematical and scientific foundations that form the origins of Arabic characters, such as the proportional systems that were developed in the 10th century. For him and the other artists in this show, writing is more than the legible word; they use it as a pictorial, formal element, referencing a multitude of issues—religious, social, political and personal.
Working with different media, including paint on canvas, collage, ink on paper, gold leaf and silkscreen, these artists take traditional Arabic script and symbols as their point of departure. Qatari artist Yousef Ahmad distills Arabic letters into abstract shapes and gestural marks that sweep across dreamlike mixed-media surfaces. Syrian artist Khaled Al-Saa’i is inspired by poetry and Sufi philosophy, and paints spacious landscapes in which words float, overlap and follow their own particular rhythm. Offering a nuanced view of Middle Eastern culture, these innovative artists create complex contemporary works that draw on the spiritual depth of ancient Islamic art.
This exhibition aims to further intercultural dialogue between the Middle East and beyond. It follows on the success of Signs: Contemporary Arab Art, mounted at Sundaram Tagore New York in 2009 and Sundaram Tagore Beverly Hills in 2010, as well as Written Images: Contemporary Calligraphy from the Middle East at Sundaram Tagore New York in 2011. These shows were curated by Karin von Roques, who studied and lived in the Middle East over the past decade. As such, she has an intimate and unique understanding of the region and its artists. This show sees her throw into relief the wide range of work emerging from the contemporary Middle East, bringing its seminal artists to an international audience.