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On the Arabic Calligraphy:

Arabic calligraphy is a highly demanding and disciplined genre of Islamic art. Although it is a time-intensive activity, calligraphy is a gratifying experience for both the calligrapher and his audience. For centuries, the classical scripts of Arabic calligraphy faced a profound aesthetic challenge, and passed a test of balance, which may have been inherently paradoxical. The core of such a challenge of balance was posed through delivering artistic images, flowing in a poetic mode and progressing in a rhythmic pace, by employing a visual scope restricted by stringent elements such as the finite number of the alphabetical shapes, uncompromising aesthetic rules, and strict geometrical measurements and proportions. A successful outcome of this task that can manage to strike such a delicate equilibrium would undoubtedly require a long-term traditional training and high level of competence. I am lucky to have started early on, and continued to practice for more than three decades. I consider myself one of a few original Arabic calligraphers living in the West, who foster classical calligraphy and emphasize the essence of manual skills. Also, I am among the few who still resist the growing temptation of using computerized letter-sets and design templates at a time when innovative computer programs have advanced to minimize the physical ad mental labor and perfect the end results of the graphic design and related types of art including the Arabic calligraphy.

My strong influences and inspirations were the towering talents of several generations of magnificent calligraphers and their distinct styles. The most important of these influences have been the calligraphers of the contemporary Baghdadi School spearheaded by Hashim Muhammad Al-Khattat Al-Baghdadi, and the earlier Ottoman School, represented by Sheikh Hamadullah Al-Amasi. I tend to describe my work of calligraphy as "neo-classical" for maintaining the methods, manners, and techniques of the classic calligraphers since the 8th century, but I also follow a quasi-modern and personal approach, which could be characterized by:

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The utilization of Arabesque (Az-Zakhrafah Al-Arabia) as an integrative element of calligraphy, compared to its traditional employment. I define the traditional employment of Arabesque as either an occasional and partial use in a decorative framework out of the calligraphy space, or a full Deco art, unconnected to calligraphy, but standing by its own merit. In my integrative approach, I believe only a minimum use of selected motifs of arabesque is needed for my calligraphy projects to be functional and attuned. These motifs involve intricate ornamental patterns of interlaced lines and forms, often in botanical shapes such as stems, foliage and buds. They can perfectly lend themselves to the structural subtlety of lines and space of the written words, adding grace and luster, and allowing for the use of color. Colors of the calligraphy background are mostly dark, specifically the traditional solid black, and the foreground are mostly white or other light colors. Bright colors are also sporadically and carefully used, especially in the internal spacious frames, small motifs, and in the grammatical dots (An-Nuqat). All of these components are harmonized in a single integrative structure to present the calligraphy work as one unit.

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The major purpose for employing these colors is to enhance the visual sensory and illuminate the fundamental cohesiveness of the image. Moreover, a modified minimum use of arabesque and color is essential to help emphasize the artistic abstract form of the epigraphical composition, without forcing the stylistic piece into becoming a mere decorative art.

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Another supporting element to this approach is the minimization of the text, which is deliberately sought to maximize the effectiveness of using the words as single components in a whole image. One justification for using a minimal text stems from my view that as the text becomes longer, the fragmentation of the image increases, and the control and manageability of the creative process become increasingly limited.

 

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The innovative use of image repetition, symmetry, and the mirror effect. While these techniques are not new, reinvigorating and combining them with other methods and techniques is, and it is evident in my work.

As an Arab American, I believe the rich culture of my ethnicity has been neglected, negated, and rejected. Systematically, and over time, the Arabic and Muslim community in the United States has truly become underprivileged, and has been slowly robbed of the opportunities to honor their heritage and proclaim their roots without being subject to all sorts of links to fundamentalism and terrorism. This Website offers a valuable opportunity for the American public to fathom the beautiful, peaceful and bright side of the Arabic/Islamic culture for its unique art. I hope the power of art would be able to counter the daemons and prevalence of the stereotypical view of this culture as primitive and violent. The exhibition of my work over the Internet offers a rare chance for the culturally deprived Arabic/Muslim community to celebrate an occasion that responds to a major element of its cultural and ethnic need. Equally important is the opportunity it affords for the general public to know more about the aesthetic and cultural legacy of Muslims, and explore the qualities and significance of Arabic calligraphy. I must stress, though, that this project is not a political act to promote Islamic ideology, nor is it a reflection of mere spiritual experience of an individual, as the text of the pieces may suggest. Rather, it is an event to appreciate, cultivate, and preserve Islamic art.

On Painting:

Painting, for me, is a thoroughfare for my imagination and a mode to free my mind and alleviate my tension. I feel I can breathe better and think more clearly as the painted forms start to take shape and color on my canvas. I believe art should have the capacity to make others breathe and think, if not better, at least differently. This logic is dictated by the notion that the physical and mental effects of art are cognate to the product as much as they are to the productive process. I subscribe to the idea that art should not be concerned with creating or modifying concepts as much as it induces perceptions, and indirectly may lead to the creation or modification of new ideas and views. In this context, an artist does not simply reveal his thoughts and reflections. Rather, the nature of his revelation, embodied in his product may define the qualities of his creativity, and therefore reveal his views. In other words, a work of art would define the artist more than the artist can define his art. However, an artist cannot escape his subjectivity for it is inherently and inextricably bound with his exposure as a reflective and expressive process. His subjectivity is also deeply rooted in his socialization and culture. I grew up in an era and country where art was severely controlled by politics, which instilled in me a sort of hypersensitivity against “political art”. I believe only in a democracy, and only by the free choice of an artist, can art transmit the artist’s genuine political views. Otherwise, art can gradually be reduced to cheap kitsch and reprehensible propaganda, and the boundaries between finer and inferior artists would be blurred.

I believe a true art cannot be spontaneous or incidental. It has to involve the artist’s deliberate, premeditated, and controlled process that is cognitive and characterized by coherence and comprehensiveness. It requires knowledge and mastery of skills, which separates a true artist from an imposter. Art as a conscious and calculated process, would rule out considering the formations of nature or the scribbles of a toddler as works of art despite their dazzling composition and stunning colors. I believe art is inherently purposeful, and ultimately bound for people, all people. I resent the idea of art for artists and those who cheer for them. A certain level of education is required not only in the production of art but also in the distribution and consumption of art. If education were to mean what it should mean, and if artists and art patrons were to be faithful to its true nature, art would have been appreciated, and even practiced by a much wider circle than by only the elite.

Throughout the years I have been engaging in art in its comprehensive sense, from painting to graphic design and illustration, to calligraphy, using different styles, techniques, and materials. I never found it important to label myself by a certain genre, style or school. I believe doing so could become a self-imposed limitation on creativity, which I believe should never be restrained. I know a great number of artists who strive to assert a unique stylistic theme for themselves, which can be a great development if only left to evolve naturally, as opposed to being stamped repetitively and obtusely.

 


©Copyright 2005, M.J. Alhabeeb. The images and text in this website are just for view. They may not be borrowed or reproduced, in whole or in part, and in any form or shape, without a written, signed, and registered permission from the author.