Last winter I’ve been reading a book on islamic calligraphy by Sheila S. Blair. It’s an artform deeply rooted in a culture that goes different ways from mine in many direction and thus has the fascination of the exotic. But for the native it seems, it is easily and universally acessible – you will find it in almost every home of people coming from or living partially in islamic countries.
As it is rooted in tradition and religion, you have to learn a whole set of iconographical elements, let alone another writing system, literature, history and esthetic to fully appreciate this art form. But it has also something very modern element: it is highly exact, geometric, based on form and proportion. Words or passages can become incredibly powerful just by their relative placement on a surface, their direction, color, silhouette.
In the case of Nja Mahdaoui, an artist based in Tunis, this is in principle all that is needed to create breathtakingly captivating art. His works, executed on traditional media such as papyrus, parchment or tapestry are inspired by the arabic script, but don’t contain actual words. This artist is seldomly exhibited in Europe, although he had expositions in the Musée Paul Valery, in Wuppertal and Switzerland. It is possible that you never heard of him, albeit his considerable fame in arabian countries, and this is, as you will see, an enormous knowledge gap. Some people say, 20th century art be decadent, falling apart, falling behind of past ideals. But I suppose this is because of an inefficient information system and a misinformed audience, not due to lack of talent. For sure, talent has always been and still is out there!
I’ll let him speak for himself: