Iraqi artist Taha Al-Hiti helps ink new golden age for Arabic calligraphy

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Updated 22 March 2020

Iraqi artist Taha Al-Hiti helps ink new golden age for Arabic calligraphy

  • In celebration of 2020 being the Year of Arabic Calligraphy in Saudi Arabia, Arab News spoke to Iraqi artist Taha Al-Hiti to get his take on the unique art form

LONDON: Arabic calligraphy has become a very progressive and sought-after form of art, according to renowned artist Taha Al-Hiti.

In celebration of 2020 being the Year of Arabic Calligraphy in Saudi Arabia, Arab News spoke to the Iraqi artist to get his take on the unique art.

He pointed out that Arabic letters and their forms were very distinctive in the way they were shaped.

“I have found a relationship between all the elements of the letter, which I later found out were linked to the human body and the golden section and all these proportions of beauty, which have just enchanted my eyes since a very young age,” he said.




An example of work by artist Taha Al-Hiti. (Supplied)

Arabic letters, he added, were designed to emulate the human body, animals and nature in general. The “golden section” (also referred to as the golden ratio or mean) appears in geometry, art, architecture and other fields that are designed to make some of the most beautiful shapes.

Several renowned buildings and artworks apply the golden ratio, such as the Parthenon in Greece, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” and the “Mona Lisa,” Salvador Dali’s “The Sacrament of the Last Supper,” as well as UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia and Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Iran, among others.

Al-Hiti noted that Arabic letters had their own components of the human body and were “based on a very organic way of building.” They are referred to as either “the chin, neck, body, or chest of the letter,” and so on and were also grouped into families.




An example of work by artist Taha Al-Hiti. (Supplied)

“For example, the letter Alif (or A in English) in calligraphy is written in a straight, vertical line. But in Arabic calligraphy, it is a straight line leaning slightly forward with a chest that’s protruded forward and the lower part is going backwards, just like the human posture,” he said.

Other examples are the letter Ain (or Aa in English) which takes the form of the eyebrow (or Hajjib in Arabic) and the letter Haa and Kha and Jeem (H, Kh, and J) which are from the same family and are shaped like an ear of a horse.

A graduate of architecture from the University of Baghdad in Iraq, Al-Hiti, was pressured into pursuing a medical degree or one of a scientific nature by his father.

“My dad was a doctor and he suggested I became a doctor, and I said no forget it, I want to be an artist. I thought architecture had got a lot of mathematics and science, as well as arts,” he added. This enabled him to combine his passion for calligraphy and Islamic arts, while also pleasing his family.




Arabic calligraphy has become a very progressive and sought-after form of art. (Supplied)

Al-Hiti was drawing his name and his parents’ before he learnt to read.

“I used to draw the names, not knowing which one was my name or which was my dad’s or being able to read them. I used to just replicate the shapes that I saw, in enchantment of the beautiful letters and then it was always present with me.”

He compared Arabic calligraphy to any other art form. “I suppose, like all sorts of arts or skills, calligraphy predominantly is a skill mixed with a good or variable bit of talent, but it’s a skill like playing the piano or sketching in pencil, these are all skills that you acquire through practice. Calligraphy requires a lot of practice, mixed with the talent and character of the calligrapher.”

He said each calligrapher’s work was based on the teachings of their “master,” ranging from various countries including Iraq, Iran, Morocco, and Andalusia in Spain, which has deep Islamic artistic roots.




Al-Hiti noted that Arabic letters had their own components of the human body and were “based on a very organic way of building.”  (Supplied)

“Calligraphy is an art that is inherited by generations that teach it to each other, so you could tell which master or if it was from a Baghdad, Moroccan or Turkish school. All the different calligraphy forms are developed in different nations of the Islamic world,” he added.

Comparing the different types of calligraphy, Al-Hiti said that Arabic calligraphy was always drawn horizontally, as opposed to, for example, Japanese or Chinese calligraphy, which was drawn vertically, and also used different techniques, inks and pens.

However, he said he aspired “to find a modern form of doing calligraphy or compositions” and “started forming vertical letters for mosques’ minarets,” and had done many successful trials, one of them 90 meters high.

“It’s the versatility in breaking the rules and how good you are in breaking those rules and coming up with something new, not necessarily replicating traditional forms, but no harm in sticking to the original rules of calligraphy as well.

“I think it’s changing for the better, there’s more interest, and the proof is this interview, that you want to convey more about this beautiful art to the public, and that is a beautiful thing.

“And the more you look at it, whether you’re an Arab or non-Arab, whether you can read it or not, you will actually find the rhythm in it, you will find the balance, you will find the harmony, you will find the contrast,” Al-Hiti added.

 


South Asian marriage websites under fire for color bias

Updated 12 July 2020

South Asian marriage websites under fire for color bias

DHAHRAN: An online backlash has forced the matrimonial website Shaadi.com to take down an ‘skin color’ filter which asked users to specify their skin color using descriptors such as fair, wheatish or dark. The filter on the popular site, which caters to the South Asian diaspora, was one of the parameters for matching prospective partners.

Meghan Nagpal, a Toronto-based graduate student, logged on to the website and was appalled to see the skin-color filter. “Why should I support such archaic view [in 2020]?” she told Arab News.

Nagpal cited further examples of implicit biases against skin color in the diaspora communities – women who are dark-skinned are never acknowledged as “beautiful” or how light-skinned South Asian women who are mistaken as Caucasian consider it a compliment.

“Such biases stem from a history of colonization and the mentality that ‘white is superior’,” she said.

When Nagpal emailed the website’s customer service team, she received the response that “this is what most parents require.” She shared her experience on a Facebook group, attracting the attention of Florida-based Roshni Patel and Dallas-based Hetal Lakhani. The former took to online activism by tweeting the company and the latter started an online petition.

Overnight, the petition garnered more 1,500 signatures and the site eventually removed the filter.

“Now is the time to re-evaluate what we consider beautiful. Colorism has significant consequences in our community, especially for women. People with darker skin experience greater prejudice, violence, bullying and social sanctions,” the petition reads. “The idea that fairer skin is ‘good’ and darker skin is ‘bad’ is completely irrational. Not only is it untrue, but it is an entirely socially constructed perception based in neo-colonialism and casteism, which has no place in the 21st century.”

Overnight, the petition garnered more 1,500 signatures and the site eventually removed the filter.

“When a user highlighted this, we were thankful and had the remnants removed immediately. We do not discriminate based on skin color and our member base is as diverse and pluralistic as the world,” a spokesperson said.

“If one company starts a movement like this, it can change minds and perceptions. This is a step in the right direction,” said Nagpal. Soon after, Shaadi.com’s competitor Jeevansathi.com also took down the skin filter from its website.

Colorism and bias in matrimony is only one issue; prejudices are deeply ingrained and widespread across society. Dr. Sarah Rasmi, a Dubai-based psychologist, highlights research and observations on how light skin is an advantage in society.

The website took down the skin filter following backlash.

“Dark skin tends to have lower socio-economic status and, in the US justice system, has been found to get harsher and more punitive sentences.

“These biases for fair as opposed to dark skin comes from colonial prejudices and the idea that historically, light skin has been associated with privilege, power and superiority,” she said.

However, in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter protests, change is underway.

Last month, Johnson & Johnson announced that it will be discontinuing its skin whitening creams in Asian and Middle Eastern markets, and earlier this month Hindustan Unilever Limited (Unilever’s Indian subsidiary) announced that it will remove the words ‘fair, white and light’ from its products and marketing. To promote an inclusive standard of beauty, it has also renamed its flagship Fair & Lovely product line to Glow & Lovely.

“Brands have to move away from these standards of beauty and be more inclusive so that people – regardless of their color, size, shape or gender – can find a role model that looks like them in the mass media,” said Dr. Rasmi.