Folk: Khodeir’s letters - Calligraphy personalised in his exhibition Celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, the Picasso Gallery in Zamalek features a highly unique calligraphy collection by artist Khodeir El-Borsaidy
Writing is perhaps the most intimate of acts. Being alone with a piece of paper and confiding in it; using letters that can only be your own is both cathartic and personal. Traditional calligraphy is different, because letters are created in a standard format that seldom changes, right? Wrong. Modern calligraphers, including Khodeir El-Borsaidy, are able to make every letter their own, through combining scripture in traditional calligraphy with modern art elements that personalise their work.
In celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, the Picasso Gallery in Zamalek features a calligraphy collection by artist Khodeir El-Borsaidy. The assortment is versatile and inspiring, combining traditional scripture with innovative designs and surprisingly untraditional textures.
Arabic scripts in the form of ordinary text and sacred scripture have recently appeared in paintings, inducing a spiritual and mystical mood to modern art while reviving calligraphy as an art form.
Middle Eastern art holds a strong tradition of calligraphy, its roots stretching back to Islamic texts. With the emergence of the Quran in the 7th century, Arabic moved from being a spoken a language to an elaborately drawn one. Calligraphy was developed to copy the sacred text, with classical schools appearing in Egypt, along with Turkey, Iraq and Iran.
Early on, Arabic calligraphy was categorised into two schools; the angular Kufic script with its many variations and the more rounded and bendy cursive script, including Nashk, Thuluth, Nastaliq, and Riq'a. In the 17th century, Ibn Moqla. the one-handed calligrapher, developed a proper code for calligraphy dubbed “proportioned calligraphy,” which sets the proportions to a circle. The National Library in Cairo holds a copy that dates back from 1663.
Through the years, Arab artists have transcended the traditional geometric form of calligraphy, introducing their own touches of colour and abstraction to transform Arabic text into an art form.
For Khodeir El-Borsaidy, calligraphy is a medium of expression; he combines text with colour to visually echo an intimate affair with each letter he encounters. El-Borsaidy enjoys a rapport with his texts, and is able to give an aesthetic quality to sacred and popular meanings.
Walking through the gallery, you are distracted by the collection’s sheer diversity. Standing side by side, each piece flaunts its own character. Some canvases hold verses from the Quran, others reiterate folk proverbs and poetry, while others glorify Egypt in a unique manner.
When asked what calligraphy means to him, Khodeir replies, “it is my whole life.” The artist admits to having a love affair with words. “I speak to every letter, and every letter speaks to me.” Khodeir believes that he is in total control of the relationship, “I ask the letter to move, and it obeys; it never takes offense.”
Two paintings boast popular sayings that strike a chord: “Eyes and ears have tongues, too”, and “Words are not swords, but they pierce the heart.” The words are loosely laid out, or rather doodled on the page, floating in a sea of coloured specks and wave-like lines of colour.
Another striking piece is a colour-infused canvas with Allah repeated and interlinked in different sizes and in every colour possible, it seems. It is bright and uplifting, and utterly nonconformist.
El-Borsaidy also showcases a few traditional calligraphy pieces, at times extending letters elaborately in pinks and greens, at other times flawlessly shaping scripture in jet-black ink.
The artist also pays tribute to change and to his native land, Egypt. “I wanted to respond to what’s on the public’s mind,” Khodeir reveals. He describes one painting, a black word against white background with a large red dot; the Egyptian flag spells kafa (enough). “The white disrupts the blackness - enough darkness!” he begins. “The red spot is blood - our blood,” he continues. “And the word is sinking down, [but] we need to float, we need to emerge from underneath.”
Modern art prescribes that you walk through the gallery and try to decipher the hidden messages that artists seemed to artfully wrap up in colours and shapes that intrigue you, not so much with their aestheticism, but with their subject matter and its interpretation on canvas. Here, Khodeir writes, or recreates words and messages that people are already familiar with, and adds a degree of aestheticism that soothes onlookers.
Khodeir El-Borsaidy has established the Syndicate for Arabic Calligraphy in an effort to protect his beloved letters. “Every letter is a person with its own soul; we must revive it as part of our heritage and identity.” Khodeir suggests that calligraphy should be integrated into school curricula, in an effort to reinstate its influence and prominence as part of our culture.
At times it is hard to believe that the same artist has divulged such extremely different pieces. The loosely structured words collide with traditional lettering to present a befuddling, albeit intriguing, journey through space.
The artist says that he tries to offer something for ever viewer possible. He creates traditional calligraphy for the academics, popular words for the common viewer, and abstract experimentation for the artists. Despite his striking skill with traditional calligraphy, it would be better for El-Borsaidy to focus on his multicoloured and textured experimentations, which are refreshing and moving, rather than continually attempting to prove his professionalism, which ends up confusing and overwhelming the audience.
Programme: Picasso Art Gallery in Zamalek Now until 31 August, 2011 10:30 am- 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm - 11: 00 pm