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MBI Al Jaber Lecture Series: “Arabic Calligraphy, Art and Architecture” by Khulood Da’mi

Khulood Da’mi, Contemporary Arab Islamic Artist

Khulood Da’mi presented the 3rd lecture of the current MBI Al Jaber Lecture Series, “Arabic Calligraphy, Art and Architecture” and began by stating how important the word of God, which was written down in the form of the Quran, is and, therefore, how paramount the written word is to Arabic and Islamic culture as a whole. She then reflected on the way Muslims chose to praise the word of the Lord by making the words themselves the object of their ultimate form of art.

Khulood used slides to illustrate the various stages that Arabic calligraphy has gone through and how it has been influenced by other forms of art from neighbouring civilisations: Byzantine, Aramaic and Persian. All of these cultures featured characteristics that did not quite match with the idea of aniconism – a reluctance to represent human and animal figures in religious contexts – that was later known as typically Islamic. As a consequence of this, Arabic calligraphy replaced all of these features with complex shapes portraying foliage and flowers.

Khulood then went on to explain how Arabic calligraphy evolved and transformed its primordial structure, which did not have signs that allowed readers to distinguish sets of letters with very similar shapes, to a sophisticated artistic code that was both decorative and metaphorical. The foliage that appears in these works alongside the word of God represents paradise and earthly delights. Specifically, the Kufic style, Khulood stated, was the most appropriate to accompany the construction of a religious building since its stylistic rigidity allowed decorators to fit each trait of a letter into a single tile.

The importance of calligraphy for Islamic civilisations lay in the creation of secondary, minor styles which grew more and more distinctive. The evolution of styles has continued from the Middle Ages to the present day, with the birth of the fonts that are now used in newspapers.

At the end of the lecture, Khulood kindly offered guests the opportunity to have their names written in Arabic calligraphy on decorative cards that she had made herself.

The MBI Al Jaber Seminar Room was filled to capacity by an enthusiastic audience that had a very positive response to Khulood Da’mi’s lecture. The MBI Al Jaber Foundation is looking forward to its next lecture: “Travels and Plant Collections of Aucher-Eloy, Oman, 1838”, which will be presented on 22nd February by Dr Shahina Ghazanfar, Research Associate at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

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