Naskh calligraphy: Timeless adaptability of an age-old script

Naskh calligraphy: Timeless adaptability of an age-old script
Naskh’s timeless cursive stylization was established by the Abbasid vizier and calligrapher Abu Ali Muhammad ibn Muqla. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 March 2020

Naskh calligraphy: Timeless adaptability of an age-old script

Naskh calligraphy: Timeless adaptability of an age-old script
  • Naskh has been widely used throughout the centuries to copy small manuscripts and scientific, literary and cultural books, as well as Qur’ans, mainly due to its high legibility, subtle simplicity and efficacy of execution

DUBAI: Calligraphy is one of the most important, sacred and characteristic expressions of Islam and the non-Muslim Arab world and has continually evolved and adapted since its formal introduction in the seventh century.

Styles such as Naskh have held strong and stayed relevant, opening up fresh channels of spiritual interpretation and contemporary use.

Naskh has been widely used throughout the centuries to copy small manuscripts and scientific, literary and cultural books, as well as Qur’ans, mainly due to its high legibility, subtle simplicity and efficacy of execution.

Maryam Ekhtiar, a scholar and curator at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, said that while digitalization and technologies had “challenged the supremacy of traditional calligraphy and have gradually replaced handwritten texts,” Naskh remained relevant. The 10th-century script has been adapted to computer fonts that are used regularly in print and online publications.




Styles such as Naskh have held strong and stayed relevant, opening up fresh channels of spiritual interpretation and contemporary use. (Supplied)

Naskh’s timeless cursive stylization was established by the Abbasid vizier and calligrapher Abu Ali Muhammad ibn Muqla. Following aesthetic rules, an elegant, smaller and more delicate Naskh emerged as one of six classical proportional scripts alongside Thuluth, Muhaqqaq, Rayhani, Tawqi’ and Riqa’.

Ibn Muqla’s system was based on a series of ratios around two shapes: a circle with the diameter of the letter Alif—and rhomboid dots created by the stroke of a calligrapher’s reed pen nib.

Similar to other Arabic scripts, Naskh features a straight stroke Alif and differentiates sounds through letter pointing in the form of one to three dots above or below letters, and engages a horizontal baseline, save for when a letter begins with the tail of a preceding letter.

Master calligrapher Ibn Al-Bawwab and Yaqut Al-Musta’simi further refined Ibn Muqla’s system, with enhancements and innovations. By the 17th century in Iran, Ahmad Nairizi’s revival Naskh rendered the script larger and more readable with spacing, clear bold letters and vocalization marks.

Historically utilized more frequently in books and administrative documents than for Qur’ans, Naskh and Kufic lent themselves seamlessly to abstraction, foliation and pictorial ornamentation.




Naskh’s timeless cursive stylization was established by the Abbasid vizier and calligrapher Abu Ali Muhammad ibn Muqla. (Supplied)

Such embellishments provided calligraphers, illuminators and bookbinders with the double opportunity for experimentation and compositional innovation while remaining a pious act and conveying meaning.

However, as the expansion of the calligraphic practice resulted in more complex roles and meanings for the act and outcome, Ekhtiar noted scholar Sheila Blair’s assertion that the challenge for the calligrapher became an “ambiguity of purpose” — finding the balance between “the rigors of the calligraphic discipline, the communication of information, and the desire to instill wonder in the viewer.”

Ekhtiar pointed out that the tension between verbal clarity and design was neither new nor modern. In Khurasan metalwork from the 10th century, as well as calligraphic works from 12th- to 13th-century Mosul, Naskh playfully adopted anthropomorphic forms.

“In my exhibition, ‘The Decorated Word: Writing and Picturing in Islamic Calligraphy,’ I showed that this interplay has been a distinguishing feature of Islamic calligraphy for centuries and is traceable to the early Islamic era,” she said.

From the late 15th and 16th centuries onward, there were many instances in which abstraction and ornamentation overshadowed verbal clarity. Calligrams — pictorial calligraphy — for example, became increasingly popular in 18th and 19th century Ottoman Turkey and Deccan India. It is a tendency that continues in modern and contemporary expressions of calligraphy, beginning in the mid-20th century.

Lilia Ben Salah, co-founding director of Dubai’s Elmarsa Gallery, said: “There’s been a real evolution — it was very avant-garde when artists started experimenting with new forms of Arabic calligraphy in the 1940s and 50s.

“Artists today use calligraphy the same way modernists used surrealism or abstract expressionism — it’s an artistic expression. It’s not rebranding, but the use, means and expression have been transformed within a contemporary art context.

“But it’s very cultural. Artists like Hossein Zenderoudi, Nja Mahdaoui, Khaled Ben Slimane and Rachid Koraichi use it in different visual approaches to express spirituality. They have really created their own language from their historical, cultural backgrounds,” added Ben Salah.

Although traditional calligraphy is not practiced widely today, Naskh continues to be a relevant script, opening doors for discussions on the wider uses and evolutions of calligraphic fonts, and its use by modern and contemporary artists.

“Some artists reinforce calligraphy’s historical and traditional ties, while others use this art form to express political, social, and economic issues, and questions of national and personal identity,” said Ekhtiar.

Tunisian Mahdaoui actively subverts calligraphic foundations in order to “freely exit the graphic structure of the Arabic letters or the verb syntax and the structure of the style.”

He said: “I believe that the final objective is a work of art in which materials are meaning-loaded symbols. I have tried to extract the original signification power of these materials in order to achieve an aesthetic of form. While exclusively working on form, regardless of its meaning, I enjoy the freedom of presenting all the combinations that I like.”

Ben Salah said that contemporary interpretations had taken calligraphy to another dimension that had allowed globalized younger generations to tap into the tradition, adding that there remained infinite possibilities for creative investigation.

Scripts such as Naskh, which remain relevant while also leaving room for inventiveness, indicate the staying power of its style as well as that of Islamic calligraphy as an art form.

“Many contemporary artists not only deem it relevant but continue to explore the versatility and the infinite artistic possibilities of the Arabic letters, using the art of writing as the basis for a new visual language. This will hopefully continue for generations,” added Ekhtiar.


Lebanese label Azzi & Osta dedicates its Fall 2022 couture collection to perfume

Lebanese label Azzi & Osta dedicates its Fall 2022 couture collection to perfume
Azzi & Osta Fall 2022 Couture. Supplied
Updated 30 min 48 sec ago

Lebanese label Azzi & Osta dedicates its Fall 2022 couture collection to perfume

Lebanese label Azzi & Osta dedicates its Fall 2022 couture collection to perfume

DUBAI: Perfume has the special ability to conjure up cherished memories, stimulate emotions and transport you to faraway locations. So powerful is scent, that Lebanese design duo Assaad Osta and George Azzi decided to pay homage to the art of perfumery for their joint label Azzi & Osta’s Fall 2022 couture collection.

It all started with a visit to France. The couturiers took a trip to a perfume museum in the French town of Grasse, known for its long-established perfume industry. There, they discovered a vast universe of essences, that included everything from Osmanthus flowering plants from Japan, pine needles from Canada and sandalwood from India.

Azzi & Osta Fall 2022 Couture. Supplied

The design duo were especially struck by all of the different territories, civilizations, talents and cultures that can intersect in a single bottle of perfume. Thus, they decided that their next collection would be dedicated to fragrance.

The idea was to utilize different materials and shapes in order to evoke the lightness and volatility of perfume.

Azzi & Osta Fall 2022 Couture. Supplied

They embroidered precious ingredients including orange blossom, peach bud, patchouli, magnolia, fig, neroli and myrtle, that compose a typical fragrance, with subtle petals of fabric molded and colored by hand, accompanied by ribbons of tulle stitched together edge-to-edge in frills.

The 23-piece offering also boasts custom-made floral fabric, printed in 3D with verbena and patchouli; a corset inspired by the 1950s from which the embroidered flowers of a dress pour out and dresses cut in the shape of a vase.

Azzi & Osta Fall 2022 Couture. Supplied

In an effort to incorporate eco-conscious practices into their designs, the couturiers opted for faux fur and feathers in the collection. Adding to this conscious practice, the couturiers also utilized raffia, a natural and renewable woven fiber, in the looks.

The collection culminates with three striking wedding gowns.

Azzi & Osta Fall 2022 Couture. Supplied

One is made of tightened velvet ribbons and tulle and features a skirt embroidered with myrtle flowers.

Another is embroidered with tuberose on Chantilly silk, under a layer of lace dotted with organza flowers and spangled with crystals, while the third wedding gown boasts a sprinkling of sequins and organza feathers on the shoulders that would make any bride say “I do.”

 


International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia

International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia
Updated 18 June 2021

International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia

International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia

In honor of International Sushi Day celebrated on June 18, here are six sushi spots to try in Saudi Arabia, rounded up by Arab News Japan.  

Chez Sushi

This modern and casual restaurant on Prince Saud Al-Faisal Road in Jeddah feature custom dishes such as a Japanese burrito and attractive lunch offers.

Oishii Sushi

Owner Khulood Olaqi turned this home-based online store into a fully-fledged restaurant where she is both a chef and manager. Cozy, warm and welcoming, Oishii Sushi is located in Riyadh.

Sushi Centro

Promising sushi that is “rolled to perfection,” the restaurant also provides traditional Japanese food that is rich in flavor and flair. Sushi Centro has two branches in Saudi Arabia, one in Jeddah in Centro Shaheen Hotel, and the other in Riyadh’s Centro Waha Hotel.

Nozomi

Nozomi’s menu is internationally renowned and award-winning, offering an unrivaled fine-dining experience on Riyadh’s Dabab Street.

Wakame

A hip restaurant that plays host to business meetings, gossip and fast-paced service at a dimly lit sushi bar, Wakame has three branches in Jeddah: In Ar Rawdah district, in Obhur and on Al-Malik Road.

Sushi Yoshi

A franchise with branches in Riyadh, Jeddah and Alkhobar where guests can enjoy anime with their sushi. 


Arab filmmakers Kaouther Ben Hania, Sameh Alaa join Cannes’ short film jury

Arab filmmakers Kaouther Ben Hania, Sameh Alaa join Cannes’ short film jury
Updated 18 June 2021

Arab filmmakers Kaouther Ben Hania, Sameh Alaa join Cannes’ short film jury

Arab filmmakers Kaouther Ben Hania, Sameh Alaa join Cannes’ short film jury

DUBAI: The Cannes Film Festival announced this week that Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania and Egyptian director Sameh Alaa will be part of the short film jury at the 74th edition of the event next month.

Other jury members include filmmakers Tuva Novotny from Sweden, Spain’s Carlos Muguiro, screenwriter Alice Winocour, and actor Nicolas Pariser, both from France.

Alaa’s movie, “I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face,” won the coveted Palme d’Or in the Cannes Film Festival’s short-film competition in October. (Supplied)

For this year’s festival, which runs from July 16 to 17, the selection committee has viewed 3,739 short films. The jury will be awarding one of the 10 movies selected for the competition, including flicks from Brazil, Denmark, China, France, Hong Kong, and Portugal.

Ben Hania has been making headlines in the film industry after her critically acclaimed movie, “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” was shortlisted for the Oscar’s international feature film award in February.

Meanwhile, Alaa’s movie, “I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face,” won the coveted Palme d’Or in the Cannes Film Festival’s short-film competition in October.


Aissa Djouamaa on revitalizing the North African movie scene

Aissa Djouamaa on revitalizing the North African movie scene
Updated 18 June 2021

Aissa Djouamaa on revitalizing the North African movie scene

Aissa Djouamaa on revitalizing the North African movie scene
  • Meet the director and producer leading the charge for a new wave of Algerian cinema

PARIS: Algerian director and producer Aissa Djouamaa (whose debut feature, “Cilima,” was helmed under his ‘artist name’ Aissa ben Said) may have chosen to keep his distances from the media, but he remains, nonetheless, a deeply committed artist, both behind the camera and on the ground. He is recognized as someone who has initiated a major and profound change in the movie industry of his native country, Algeria.

Perseverance is one of Djouamaa’s major qualities. When he was rejected by the School of Dramatic Arts in Algiers due to his unsatisfactory baccalaureate grades, he decided to study biology for four years, but his passion for cinema did not fade. So, in 2007 he took the decision to join the Tunis School of Arts and Cinema.

"I enrolled there with the intention of becoming an actor. But when I discovered the universe of the film industry, I started focusing on the picture, the frame and the writing,” he says.

“Cilima” is typical of the ideals behind Nouvelle Vague Algerienne, aimed as it is at reviving Algerian cinema. (Supplied)

Djouamaa ranked top of his class for two consecutive years before encountering a major problem. “I realized that I was attracted to disturbing social issues, to topics that were not supposed to be addressed,” he says. “I decided that for my final project I would make a movie about the aggressive police attacks that took place during the local derby between the Tunisian football teams Esperance Sportive de Tunis and Club Africain.” However, he was unable to get the necessary authorization, so his film was never completed.

In summer 2010, Djouamaa traveled to Algeria to produce his first short film “Un Cri Sans Echo” (A scream without echo), which focused on marginalized musicians living in Souk Ahras, the artist's hometown. The film was screened during the Doc à Tunis festival in April 2011, just months after then-President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted at the start of the Arab Spring, and it earned Djouamaa his diploma.

When he returned to Algeria, he encountered numerous problems, mainly financial. “I worked as a sales consultant for a multinational company. Every vacation I had, I would make a short film,” he says. “I also taught at the Office des Établissements de Jeunes, which produced my first film.”

Djouamaa’s second movie — “Colors, the Country and Me,” was about a hero of Souk Ahras: Taoufik Makhloufi, the only Algerian to win a gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Perseverance is one of Djouamaa’s major qualities. (Supplied)

“It’s about the new generation that perceives Algeria from a different angle,” he says. “It was time to write a new page of Algeria’s history as seen through the eyes of this generation.”

In order to emphasize a different vision to that of traditional non-fiction filmmakers, Djouamaa next decided to take part in his own documentary. “Talking about Algeria’s 50th Independence Day does not necessarily mean talking about the Algerian revolution as such, but rather talking about what Algeria has experienced, from independence until today,” he says.

Djouamaa was beginning to make a name for himself in his homeland. In 2014, he participated in the first Algiers French Institute laboratory and his film “Makash Kifach No Way” was broadcast on French television. The following year, he quit his job and headed to Canada to participate in KINOMADA — a non-profit film production platform — and to shoot his first fictional film, the short “We Return to Paradise,” which featured a rabbi, a priest and an imam. “I have never thought of presenting it in Algeria, as the topic (exploring the merits of art vs. religion) remains taboo.”

In 2016, he took part in a summer program at Paris’ renowned La Fémis film and television school. There, he filmed the Place de la Republique square during the “Nuit Debout” (Up all night) protests against new labor laws. “It has always been the French producing documentaries about Algeria,” he says. “It was about time that an Algerian made a documentary about France.”

His experiences in Canada and France inspired Djouamaa — despite Algeria’s “suffocating bureaucracy” — to establish his own production company, Nouvelle Vague Algerienne (Algerian New Wave). And it was his second fictional short, “Un Homme, Deux Théatres” (One man, two theaters), that saw his reputation grow outside of Algeria.

Djouamaa hopes to see Algerian cinema rise again. (Supplied)

“This film was the door to international recognition,” he says. “It got screened all over the globe. I even received an award for it in Madagascar.”

At the 2017 Carthage Film Festival, Djouamaa encountered members of the Algerian Ministry of Culture, which only served to reinforce his belief that he was operating outside of his country’s mainstream media business. “They were wondering, ‘Who is this stranger, so unfamiliar to Algerian society, who doesn’t seem interested in who we are?’” he says.

But he got on better with the director of the Algerian commission which allocates funds to filmmakers, obtaining funding for five projects. He went on to shoot his first feature film “Cilima,” which he has described as a “one-of-a-kind film” that combined stories created by four young filmmakers from across Algeria.

“Cilima” is typical of the ideals behind Nouvelle Vague Algerienne, aimed as it is at reviving Algerian cinema.

“I am an artist who recognizes the enormous potential of the young generation. The Algerian New Wave is not just about producing projects talking about present Algeria. It’s a whole educational project. We are trying to make a change”, he explains. “I am a staunchly committed artist, a member of the Hirak. I have always refused to be part of the ingrained system.”

He went on to shoot his first feature film “Cilima,” which he has described as a “one-of-a-kind film” that combined stories created by four young filmmakers from across Algeria. (Supplied)

That system in Algeria, he explains, “was based on revolutionary films, subsidized with huge amounts of public money. Algerian cinema reached its peak with the Palme d'Or awarded in 1975 to Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina. Then came the black decade that saw the number of movie theaters fall from 500 to just 40.”

Djouamaa hopes to see Algerian cinema rise again. Along with two other producers, he has set up the Basma Collective. “In this country we have a lack in film schools,” he explains. “It is extremely important not to cut corners. We are in the process of setting up Timi Lab — a writing development venture — in Timimoun, in the Algerian Sahara, with the help of funds from the international film industry. We are also preparing an African and Arab festival called Timi Film Days.”

As for his own filmmaking, Djouamaa is currently in the process of developing a documentary that he says will “destabilize the current system, especially its relations with France.” It is based around the story of the village of Reggane, the location of French nuclear tests between 1960 and 1968.

“I decided not to make a historical movie, but instead to bring in my creative touch,” he says. “The story is about an association that contacts an international law firm (in relation to the Reggane tests). The latter files a complaint before the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

Clearly, Djouamaa’s Algerian New Wave is set on making waves.


THE BREAKDOWN: Lebanese artist Dinah Diwan discusses ‘Wandering City #17’

THE BREAKDOWN: Lebanese artist Dinah Diwan discusses ‘Wandering City #17’
Updated 18 June 2021

THE BREAKDOWN: Lebanese artist Dinah Diwan discusses ‘Wandering City #17’

THE BREAKDOWN: Lebanese artist Dinah Diwan discusses ‘Wandering City #17’
  • The Lebanese artist discusses her 2021 mixed-media artwork, inspired by Beirut and showcased at the inaugural edition of Menart Fair in Paris last month

DUBAI: I started the “Wandering City” series in 2018. It began with a piece of my diary that I wrote in 1975. I was writing every day in this diary, describing a lot of paths that I used to walk in Beirut when I was 13. I was really struck by that. We were extremely free at that moment; we could do whatever we wanted, but we were well aware of the political situation. I would write everything that was happening in Lebanon during the beginning of the Civil War.

I took my diary and started to play with maps of Beirut, mixing what I remember with what’s happening now. I left Lebanon a long time ago, but I still keep going back and forth. I trained as an architect in France and I never forgot this idea of maps and psychogeography. I was very much inspired by how you reconstruct your own geography. It’s not about nostalgia, it’s about how you keep searching for others, sensations, vegetation and light.

She started the “Wandering City” series in 2018. (Supplied)

In “Wandering City #17,” the writing is based on my diary entry for June 28, 1975. I went to my parents’ office with my mother to pick up my passport because I was traveling. We had to meet my father at the temple, which was next to my parent’s office. There were a lot of bombs on the way. June 28 was a real trauma for everyone. 

I picked pink because I wanted something happy. Even if the war was happening, we were extremely happy. Pink and orange were the colors of my teenage years in the Seventies, or at least what I remember when I visualize that time: the colors of the clothes, movie posters, record covers, store fronts.

The process is, I transfer my map onto the cotton canvas and I pin everything and then I draw on top of it with acrylic pencil, layer by layer. Only the writing is stitched. When I do my maps, it takes forever, but it’s a kind of meditation and I don’t want it to finish. It’s a way to stay in my childhood. I’m trying to say goodbye to Beirut, but it’s not working.