A pink taxi

A pink taxi

November 28, 2010

Sotheby's Doha Sale

I have just discovered another reference book-catalog from Sotheby's: Horouf: the Art of the Word, Dec 16, 2010.  The up and coming sale at Doha, is an exhibit of Arabic calligraphy,  an art genre I have only recently begun to appreciate.

The rich cover with Ahmad Mustafa's penmanship and the Muhammad Ehsai stylized blue letters on the back, sealed together with a now "trademark gold biding" conceals the contents of the Doha sale in a refined preview feature.

The sale begins with "The Green Tree" by Ali Hassan, a symbolic and optimistic painting for the Islamic world.  No sooner had I turned to Lot 2 that I recognized Dalya Islam's talented curatorship. She has dusted the conservatism and the stillness off the concept of calligraphy and has dignified it with a modern and avant guard twist.

Lot 2 is a Kamran Diba painting with very little calligraphy, in the pure sense of the term. Here, the artist has removed the text from the front page newspaper, only showing the illustrations, all photographs of Qatar. The newspaper has six top paper titles, thus referring to them all at once, but rendering the situation unlikely. Journalistic words are also developed in the work of Mohammed El Baz, the neon signs are the ones of the three Arab leading newspapers.

In this catalog, artists have a common theme to work on: calligraphy. But calligraphy here has a very open definition and the artists are from the Middle East but also from the United States, China, Japan and particularly from the Indian Subcontinent. How I smiled when I saw M.F Hussein's watercolors: his calligraphy retains his ElGreco elongated style which make him so unique.

Rachid AlKoraichi has a monumental sculpture in bronze, a masterpiece representing a Japanese character with Arab symbolism. How I wish to see that particular piece of the collection!

My favorite pieces from the catalog are Hussein Madi's The Arabic Alphabet and Omar Bilbeisi's Untitled. Omar Bilbeisi is unknown to me, yet his use of primary colors and his highly stylized script remind me very much of Shishegaran who painted scrawls instead of letters on very similar backdrops of primary, two dimensional colors. I can even sense an influence of Dia Azzawi because the Iraqi artist used black between the bold colors as Bilbeisi does.

Hussein Madi has painted 31 circles, which he aligned perfectly in a grid. In each circle you may find a single chapter: the celebration of the Arabic Alphabet, one letter at a time. I only know Madi for his Bottero-esque figures or his abstract patterns. The abstract pattern of leaves, flowers and birds set his familiar background, a trademark of Madi: his identifiable style. The addition of letters make the work all the more unique.

Granted there is a big dichotomy between the two halves of the catalog, thus making it a serious sale of calligraphy because it is an amalgamation of vanguard contemporary artists and precious antique and religious works. In fact, the last part of the book is a clear and immediate reference to the vestiges that our new artists use for inspiration.
From the 89th lot onwards, I get lost in the unknown realm of antiquities. The first 89 lots are in contrast very familiar to me.

That is why I was able to recognize the very special collection that Dalya Islam curated. Her team has brought two very fine Khaled Ben Slimane, both sculpture and painting. How did they find the Ali Omar Ermes, painted 8 years ago, of four letters, all in a familiar alphabetized sequence instead of the standard single letter he chooses to paint today? Luxurious are the golden interlaced letters of Farhad Moshiri, on a white background of deliberately peeling paint. I consider the letters and numerals by Moshiri to be the finest of his repertoire.

I also admired Zoulikha Bouabdellah's orange sculpture of Hobb and was grateful to Dalya Islam for selling works created by artists that were born after 1977. Thus Marwa Adel, born 1984, may not be a piece I would theoretically buy, but it provides me with a great example of how unconventional Dalya Islam is being in order to diffuse calligraphy to a wider audience. She certainly educated me by finding all this talent for a single calligraphy theme.

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