Saudi calligrapher Nasser Al-Salem’s modern take on Islamic art

Al-Salem is one of 10 contemporary artists awarded the Al-Burda Endowment in 2018. (Supplied)
Updated 06 November 2019

Saudi calligrapher Nasser Al-Salem’s modern take on Islamic art

DUBAI: Jeddah-based Saudi artist Nasser Al-Salem has revealed his latest project, which will be showcased in the UAE’s Al-Burda Endowment exhibition — organized by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development — on Nov. 21.

Al-Salem is one of 10 contemporary artists awarded the Al-Burda Endowment in 2018. The endowment is awarded to “artists who explore Islamic art practices and continue to work towards developing contemporary Islamic Art,” according to a press release.




Al-Salem's latest project will be showcased in the UAE’s Al-Burda Endowment exhibition. (Supplied)

That is something Al-Salem has a history of doing, dating back to his time studying at Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Makkah. In 2010, Al-Salem came second in Saudi Arabia’s National Calligraphy competition. He is also a member of the National Guild of Calligraphers and an active member of Saudi Arabia’s Arts and Culture Group.

His work in general incorporates modern design elements (he has a background in architecture) with traditional calligraphy and Islamic geometry, often referencing verses from the Qur’an. He has been hailed as “pushing the boundaries of Islamic calligraphy” for his habit of using mixed-media platforms to present his work.




In 2010, Al-Salem came second in Saudi Arabia’s National Calligraphy competition. (Supplied)

For the Al-Burda exhibition, Al-Salem has created an installation of a room with green walls (a reference to the green screens used to insert special effects into movies) with Arabic text written on them — a quote from the hadith, “Ma la aynon raat,” which translates as “Like never seen before,” according to Al-Salem.

“The idea (behind the) green-screen room is that every (filmmaker) can create a scene, then edit the picture and add backgrounds that are sometimes surreal or difficult to achieve in real life,” Al-Salem told Arab News. “Every one of us has different expectations of heaven, and I tried to translate this idea in the project. When you are in the room, you will not only see one perspective of the project, you can also spin around to see other perspectives of the work… and this translates the idea of ‘Like Never Seen Before.’ There isn't one clear image you can see from one corner of the room, just like there isn't one perspective or one picture through which we can imagine heaven.”


Photographers reveal Egypt’s hidden gems in show for a good cause

This is the group’s fourth charitable exhibition. (Supplied)
Updated 7 min 7 sec ago

Photographers reveal Egypt’s hidden gems in show for a good cause

  • Cairo Saturday Walks are a group of photographers who go on adventures every week to take pictures across the city
  • The team is now exhibiting its work for charity at a gallery in the city

DUBAI: The Cairo Saturday Walks team, a group of photographers who go on adventures every week to take pictures across the city, are now exhibiting their work for charity at a gallery in the city.

The exhibition brought together more than 50 local, international, professional and amateur photographers who are displaying their work in the Maadi district until Nov. 22.

The youngest participant is 13 and the oldest is 60. (Supplied)

All proceeds from the gallery will go to the restoration of a public facility in one of the underserved areas that the group has walked in and photographed during the past, according to the founder of Cairo Saturday Walks Karim El-Hayawan.

This is the group’s fourth charitable exhibition.

El-Hayawan described the practice as an “organic experience,” during which photographers discover the city’s hidden gems.

The group is displaying its work in the Maadi district until Nov. 22. (Supplied)

What started off as a one-man weekly walk is now a practice shared by 500 photographers.

El-Hayawan’s journey began after he took a basic introductory course in photography. “I did not have time during the week to work on my photography assignments. I used to go out every Saturday to take pictures and I used to post on my account. Then a lot of people started asking me ‘Where are these places? Where do you go? We want to join,’ although (these places) exist 10-15 minutes from anywhere in Cairo, but people did not notice them or had forgotten them,” he told Arab News.

The photographers walk around and discover the city’s hidden gems. (Supplied)

The group has a library of more than 15,000 pictures accessible on Instagram through #cairosaturdaywalks.

“We ask people who join us to share their pictures on that hashtag, with the intention of having a long-term documentation of Cairo,” El-Hayawan said. “Everyone takes pictures from his/her own perspective. It is extremely neutral; everyone takes pictures of whatever they want.”

In two to three years, people can go back to this documentation and see that Cairo looked this way at this time,” he said.

All proceeds from the gallery will go to the restoration of a public facility in one of the underserved areas that the group has walked in and photographed during the past. (Supplied)

A typical Saturday for the photographers starts off at a cafe. “We meet in the morning at a coffee shop and we take a little bus that we rent every Saturday and we just hit the road to somewhere random and we get lost. We call them to pick us up from wherever we reach at the end of the day. The idea is that it has no structure and I really aimed at that from the very beginning,” El-Hayawan said.

What started off as a one-man weekly walk is now a practice shared by 500 photographers. (Supplied)

The youngest participant is 13 and the oldest is 60, but El-Hayawan said that anyone can join the walk and share their pictures.

“I found out about Cairo Saturday Walks from Instagram. The spirit of people I walk with is just amazing. Also, the fact that I am Egyptian yet I still get amazed by Cairo’s streets is what pushes me to explore more every week,” Yara Wael, a 17-year-old photographer, told Arab News.