Friday, 15 February 2008

DIFC Word into Art

This show is on until April 30th at DIFC and it’s FREE so you have absolutely no excuse not to see it! I first saw the Word into Art exhibition at the British Museum in London in 2006. Although the scope of the exhibition now transported to Dubai is smaller, it was great to see it again. The opening day was accompanied by panels, discussion forums and educational events specifically tailored to the local context so there was a lot more to it than just the exhibition.

Word into Art focuses on how script has been used in Middle Eastern art from the calligraphic traditions of Quranic and poetic verse, through to more innovative and modern manifestations. In the process it demonstrates how script is used to convey a diversity of symbolic, political or purely aesthetic meanings.

The exhibition is in four sections the first of which is ‘Sacred Script’. Given that the Arabic script used today is the same as that in which the Quran was originally revealed there is an inherent religious association with the script. In turn the Quranic text itself then prompted a major development of the written language into a structured system. Perhaps because of this there is a common assumption that all Arabic calligraphy constitutes verses from the Quran. However, this completely overlooks the rich poetic tradition in the Arabic speaking world and much of the calligraphic representation in this show was from classical poetry.

Interestingly there are a number of different calligraphic styles that developed at different periods of Arabic history. One of them the Nasta’liq was designed by a 15th Century calligrapher, inspired by the sight of geese flying across the sky. The most common is thuluth in which part of each letter slopes, making it more cursive than the block or kufic text, which preceded it. The letter Kun (Be) by Nassar Mansour on the left is very stylised kufic while Ghani Alani’s verses from the pre-Islamic poet Zuhayr ibn Abi Sulma on the right are thuluth. The last line of this poem reads: ‘Half of man is his tongue, and the other half is his heart: the rest is only an image composed of blood and flesh’.

There are a number of other styles too and this is quite a contrast to the modern problem of very limited Arabic fonts - most newspapers, websites and software use just one. This problem was the subject of a presentation by the founder of the Khatt Foundation, which initiated a collaborative design project in Holland resulting in the creation of 5 new Arabic fonts (see

Section 2 explored the theme of ‘Literature and Art’ and included Farhad Moshiri’s paintings of pots, which are among the most striking images to have come out of Iran in recent years. Inscribing poetry on urns or pots goes back to the medieval Islamic period when a trend developed for uniting material and literary culture. The poem here is by Omar Khayyam and is called Drunken Lover. Intoxication is a common theme in classical poetry but is ambiguous as it also refers to the emotional or spiritual ecstasy of love and faith rather than straight substance abuse. I think Khayyam probably played with this ambiguity more than most, however!

The third section ‘Deconstructing the Word’ featured images made from words or based on letters. This included poetry in three different languages painted onto strips of silk and delicate script painted on bricks! However, I was struck by one particular piece in this section by Lassaad Metoui because of its similarity to Chinese and Japanese calligraphy. The medium was black ink on paper and the choice of word was the Arabic for ‘path’, also a key philosophical concept in the far east and frequently the subject of calligraphic works.

The fourth and final section was ‘History, Politics and Identity’ and used a huge variety of mediums and images. One of these was the dafatir meaning ‘notebook’ in Arabic. The dafatir is an experimental medium of artist books that have emerged from Iraqi artists over the past few years. Hana Malallah’s book is based on the ancient poem ‘The conference of the birds’ by Farid al-Din Attar. This is a mystic tale of enlightenment but in this modern manifestation the book is ripped and the text illegible. Others contain scraps of newspaper, clothing and assorted debris from the street. Some have been partially burned and are displayed open with scorched covers and pages containing only some of the original artist content. What they represent is the profound loss of Iraqi heritage and culture as museums and libraries have been destroyed over the course of the war. Carleton College in Minnesota actually held an exhibition devoted entirely to these kinds of works by Iraqi artists in 2006 (see

Other interesting pieces in this section included Chant Avedissian’s homage to Egypt’s most famous and revered singer, Umm Kalthoum, and prints from Shada Ghadrian interpreting our modern and perhaps merging identities with Ctrl-Alt-Del.

For many more images and info from this show see the BZU Virtual Gallery site:
  • I will just repeat that this show is on until April 30th at DIFC and it’s FREE so you have absolutely no excuse not to see it ;)

Thursday, 7 February 2008

A word from our sponsors..

... and that word is NO!

Although spouse is not sponsored by his soon-to-be-former employer we just discovered that his (and therefore my) visa sponsorship is only valid while he works for that employer. So ... looks like we're fugged .. maybe I could apply for a job on a building site?

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

So much to do, so little time ..

After a blog absence, two weeks of which was spent in the UK, I am now back in Dubai and have started another part time job on an arts project. This is just as well because we were recently informed that spouse had been fired!

It’s not quite that simple but apparently the funding for his job has been cut and his contract will end at the beginning of March. When I heard the news I was spitting blood and trying to find out if we could sue but close inspection of the contract reveals a complete lack of litigation options. Consequently all I can do is imagine walking into both the Brussels and Washington headquarters of the (soon-to-be-former) employer with a couple of sub machine guns.

What infuriates me is that it took 7 fuggin stressful months to get plugged in here, the upshot being that things had started to fall into place in the few weeks before we got this news. So I was just starting to relax and imagine being able to buy some new knickers rather than watching every dirham go into a bottomless pit, and then this happens.

What kind of moronic organisation relocates a new employee without having guaranteed funding for at least two years?? Then again why were we surprised? There have been problems since the very beginning with spouse's job. The organisation were hopeless at the relocational logistics and have demonstrated a considerable lack of administrative competence on a number of occasions since. Managerially disastrous, agenda driven users living off a reputation built at the expense of their employees and a board of ex-politicos who want to die without having what they did (or didn't do) while in office on their consciences. Oh yes! May curses rain upon them!

Anyway, we have to stay here. We no longer have jobs in the UK to go back to and there's somebody else living in our house! So spouse is looking for freelance and my arts project job could turn full time. In fact the project is morphing in classic Dubai stylee into something of a ‘grand projet’ so quickly that it could become double time!

It is a very exciting project although I am a little wary of a full time job. The last one I had turned me into a malevolent witch with extreme homicidal tendencies. Since then I have engineered a careful and varied self employment regime which maintains sanity, solvency and enough time to be an artist. However, going full time may be the only viable financial option especially now that I may have a spouse to support.

The trip to London was at least paid for by spouse’s (soon-to-be-former) employers. We spent the time raiding the last of our savings for the next rent instalment in Dubai and clearing out my beautiful studio and converting it into a bedroom so we can rent it out. Tragic.

It is still not certain that we will be able to stay. Assuming we can get round the visa issue we should know within six months whether it is financially sustainable or not. In the meantime no new knickers.