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.”


‘Arabs Are Not Funny’ comedy show just the opposite

Taking the stage at London’s lavish Royal Albert Hall were mixed Arab-Western comedians. (Supplied)
Updated 22 February 2020

‘Arabs Are Not Funny’ comedy show just the opposite

LONDON: Don’t let the name fool you, Friday night’s “Arabs Are Not Funny” comedy show was filled with nothing but quick-witted, snarky and overly-relatable quips. 

Taking the stage at London’s lavish Royal Albert Hall were mixed Arab-Western comedians Wary Nichen, Leila Ladhari, Mamoun Elagab and Esther Manito, with Iraqi-Scottish Sezar Alkassab hosting. 

The sold-out show started off with the host forcing the zaghrouta (a long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound of joy) out of the audience, after encouraging them to “laugh at our culture and enjoy yourself.”

Sudanese-Irishman Elagab, who was recently nominated for BBC New Comedian of the Year, kicked off the night with a comedic look back at his upbringing in the UK, dealing with extremists in class, and the struggle of explaining stand-up comedy to his Sudanese uncle.

The sold-out show started off with the host forcing the zaghrouta. (Supplied)

Lebanese-Brit Manito humored the audience with stories of the struggle of taking her British husband to Beirut to meet her relatives, raising two children as an Arab mom, and having her Lebanese father living with her family yelling and cursing at the TV and on the phone. 

Tunisian-Swiss-Austrian Ladhari joked about her boyfriend’s father trying to bond with her by trying to sympathize with Daesh and letting her know that he “too doesn’t like eating pork.”

The highlight of the night was Algerian-Frenchman Nichen, who spoke of his job as a fulltime immigrant and the racism he endures in daily life in Paris. 

The show was organized by Arts Canteen, an organization that curates and produces events, exhibitions and festivals that support emerging, mid-career and established artists from the Arab world and surrounding regions, bringing their work to new audiences in the UK and beyond.