Iraqi calligraphy artist Hassan Massoudy’s search for harmony

Iraqi calligraphy artist Hassan Massoudy’s search for harmony
Hassan Massoudy has spent a lifetime creating art that, despite its break with tradition, continues to express the beauty of Arabic calligraphy. (Supplied)
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Updated 24 September 2020

Iraqi calligraphy artist Hassan Massoudy’s search for harmony

Iraqi calligraphy artist Hassan Massoudy’s search for harmony
  • The acclaimed artist and calligrapher discusses the origins of his work and the decades of practice leading to his new book

LONDON: The Iraqi artist and renowned calligrapher Hassan Massoudy is at home in Paris quietly reminiscing. Now well into his 70s, and having not returned to Iraq for 50 years, he can be excused the odd moment of nostalgia.

“When I was younger, I went on a trip with my mother to visit her brother, who was a preacher and a thinker,” he remembers. “I looked at him in awe in his black clothes and large turban as he wrote literary phrases using a reed pen. I didn’t know how to read at that time, but what attracted me was the black ink on the white paper. I used to see the Arabic letters as a set of pictures. I marveled at that sight.”

He remembers, too, being summoned to the front of his class when he was 10 years old. Expecting the worst, he made his way to the front slowly, only to be praised for the quality of his writing. “I was over the moon when my teacher asked me to write in front of the other students in order for them to learn,” he says, pride still evident after all these years. “Today, after 66 years, I think that was the first time I wrote calligraphy in front of an audience — something I have continued to do all my life.”




Generosity is giving more than you can. Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931). (Supplied)

Massoudy has spent a lifetime creating art that, despite its break with tradition, continues to express the beauty of Arabic calligraphy. He has taken individual letters and words, constructed them as huge sculptural works, and developed his artistic practice through the increased use of energy and speed. This has led to the creation of texts with far greater character, he says, and to his own appreciation of the importance of space. “Beforehand, I thought that the letter was the only important aspect of calligraphy,” he says. “Now I realize that the space around the letters is another part of calligraphy — the letters and spaces must work together in harmony.”

Renowned for transforming poetic texts into vibrant works of art, Massoudy may have broken with classical calligraphic tradition, but his sentences are peppered with references to old masters. In Istanbul, he met the last of the great Ottoman calligraphers, including Hamid Aytaç, and studied for a brief period of time at the Madrasat Tahsin Al Khotoout in Cairo. As an apprentice in Baghdad, he spent hours with Hashem Al-Baghdadi, considered the last of the classical calligraphers. 




Knowledge stands at the highest of all ranks. Arabic saying. (Supplied)

In 1980, he went in search of the official body of work of Ibn Muqla, a vizier within the Abbasid Caliphate and the first to codify the principles of calligraphy in the 10th century. Although not a single line of Ibn Muqla’s work has survived, Massoudy has documented the calligrapher’s physical legacy, including a small eight-page notebook in Cairo and another in the National Library in Tunis. The former is a copy made some time in the 16th century.

“How do calligraphers from the past continue to affect me? Their beautiful lines have lived for thousands of years, and as a calligrapher you want to continue that. And as Jalaluddin Rumi says: ‘What you are looking for is also looking for you.’”    

Born and raised in Najaf, Massoudy moved to Baghdad in his late teens. The idea was to study at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts but he didn’t meet the entry requirements, so turned instead to the calligraphers’ shops that could still be found in the city in the early Sixties. The world he encountered there was populated by a small group of calligraphers, “but it was generous, open-minded, and unafraid of the collapse of classical methods.”




The best of speech is concise and precise. Arabic proverb. (Supplied)

Although all of his work was in the world of advertising, he learned multiple styles of calligraphy, including elaborate forms such as Thuluth and Diwani, before leaving for Paris in 1969. There, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts, where he produced his first figurative paintings and eventually formed what would become his own distinctive practice.

“In my calligraphy I reflect my personal state of being — my hopes and my aspirations,” he says. “I empty my soul of all its concerns, providing myself a state of inner peace. This is a state of equilibrium between the artistic process of the self and the human community we are linked to. What can an artist do against the wars and the injustices faced by individuals? I believe that an artist can make their work honestly representative of the time, and therefore a benefit for future generations. It’ll be for others to judge the quality of the artist’s work, therefore determining its longevity.”




Place your words well, for words place you. Arabic saying. (Supplied)

The words he draws upon for his work are those of others, particularly the writings of poets and philosophers, including Rumi, Khalil Gibran and the Persian mystic Al-Hallaj. He also draws heavily on proverbs from around the world. In doing so, he not only creates distinctive works of art, but promotes a message of peace and tolerance — two themes that are central to much of his work. That’s why words such as ‘love’ and ‘serenity’ are sprinkled liberally throughout his work.

That body of work is extensive, ranging from works on paper to theatrical performances that combine music and poetry with the creation of calligraphy live on stage. His first such performance was with the French actor Guy Jacquet and the Iraqi multi-instrumentalist Fawzy Al-Aiedy — the trio toured for 13 years in the Seventies and early Eighties. A later collaboration with the choreographer Carolyn Carlson and the Turkish musician Kudsi Erguner led to the creation of “Metaphore,” a ‘harmony of music, dance and calligraphy.’




Be the change you wish to see in the world. Gandhi (1869-1948). (Supplied)

“When I find a poetic verse, one that includes an image that I can see perfectly in my mind, I take its most beautiful words and spend days imagining the poet writing those words and how to formally reach a new expression through the new construction of a word,” Massoudy explains. “I also try to think of what can be added to enrich the painting. For example, the use of colors, as I am a person who tries his best to achieve perfection. When I speak of perfection, my goal is to create something that is as close as possible to the vision the poet had in mind. Therefore, I write the same word multiple times in a different size, even if it (differs) just by a few millimeters.”

This creative process was central to the creation of “Calligraphies of the Desert,” published by Saqi Books this month. Drawing inspiration from the writers and poets who ‘lost themselves in the mysteries of the desert,’ it is the end result of various trips undertaken by Massoudy and his wife Isabelle to the deserts of North Africa. It was there that his calligraphy “took on the ochre, yellow and pink hues of the setting sun” and his lines “closely paralleled the hollows of the dunes.”

Massoudy’s artistic vision is a humanist one. He seeks to enhance society and to elevate culture, using inspirational words to “contribute modestly to public awareness.”

“Love, happiness, hope and dignity,” he says. “All of these themes, and many others, are needed in this current time.”


Dior is set to stage its first exhibition in the Middle East

Dior is set to stage its first exhibition in the Middle East
The "Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams" exhibition at Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Getty Images
Updated 04 August 2021

Dior is set to stage its first exhibition in the Middle East

Dior is set to stage its first exhibition in the Middle East

DUBAI: “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” is a new fashion exhibition coming to Doha, Qatar, later this year. Designed specifically for the Middle East, the forthcoming exhibition is a celebration of the Parisian maison, which is turning 75 in December.

Mark your calendars, for the exhibition will take place from November 2021 until March 2022 at Doha’s M7 art center following successful stops in Paris, London and Shanghai.

The iconic Dior Bar suit. Getty Images

With special curation by Olivier Gabet, the Director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the hotly-anticipated exhibition will feature a lineup of memorable pieces that have defined the heritage fashion house, such as the iconic Bar Jacket, an iconic garment instantly-recognizable by its cinched waist from Monsieur Dior’s revolutionary 1947 collection as well as other objects that fashion enthusiasts will revel in.

Also on display will be original sketches by the legendary designer for his couture collections, a baccarat blue crystal limited edition Miss Dior perfume bottle from 1947 and haute couture creations by succeeding Dior creative directors such as John Galliano, Raf Simons and Yves Saint Laurent.


Jessica Alba, Zac Efron star in new Dubai Tourism campaign

Jessica Alba, Zac Efron star in new Dubai Tourism campaign
Jessica Alba and Zac Efron co-star in the spoof action film. Instagram
Updated 04 August 2021

Jessica Alba, Zac Efron star in new Dubai Tourism campaign

Jessica Alba, Zac Efron star in new Dubai Tourism campaign

DUBAI: US actors Jessica Alba and Zac Efron are the most recent superstars to be tapped by Dubai Tourism for its latest tourism campaign and short film. 

The ad, which is a spoof of an action film, features Alba and Efron fighting off enemies in well-known landmarks across the city, such as the Burj Khalifa and the Museum of the Future. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Zac Efron (@zacefron)

The ad campaign also sees the Hollywood duo skydive off a helipad on the Burj Al-Arab, dine at Pierchic and navigate through the historic neighborhood of Al-Fahidi on scooters. 

The action-filled clip begins with the pair at Burj Al-Arab’s SAL restaurant, while a voiceover of Alba can be heard saying, “You’re just always putting work first.”

“Look I don’t want to fight with you,” responds Efron as the on-screen couple dine at Pierchic.  “He might,” he adds after a motorbike blasts through the restaurant.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Zac Efron (@zacefron)

Also featured in the ad is Caroline Labouchere, a Dubai-based model.

Efron posted the trailer on his Instagram page, alongside the cheeky caption: “She’s always getting me out of trouble.”

Alba, 40, also posted the trailer with the caption, “He’s always getting me into more trouble…”

Efron and Alba offered a glimpse of their project with Dubai Tourism earlier this week on Instagram.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jessica Alba (@jessicaalba)

The “High School Musical” actor posted a behind-the-scenes still to his Instagram account, tagging Craig Gillespie, the Australian director who has worked on films including “I, Tonya” and, most recently, “Cruella.”

The ad was reportedly shot in the emirate in February.

At the time, images circulated on social media of the “Baywatch” star surrounded by film crew members on the beach in Jumeirah, close to the Burj Al-Arab.

Dubai Tourism is no stranger to recruiting A-listers to feature in promotional videos. 

Past stars to feature in campaigns include Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan and US actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

In 2019, Khan invited Paltrow to Dubai as part of his #BeMyGuest campaign.

Later that year, the Goop founder returned to Dubai to film a tourism campaign and short film, “A Story Takes Flight,” alongside Hollywood stars Zoe Saldana and Kate Hudson. 


Why this retired engineer is a ‘model’ Saudi citizen

The models include typical houses and traditional shops that served fava beans, barbecued meat, kebabs and mabshoor, a traditional Arab dish of bread in a meat or vegetable broth. (Photos/Huda Bashatah)
The models include typical houses and traditional shops that served fava beans, barbecued meat, kebabs and mabshoor, a traditional Arab dish of bread in a meat or vegetable broth. (Photos/Huda Bashatah)
Updated 04 August 2021

Why this retired engineer is a ‘model’ Saudi citizen

The models include typical houses and traditional shops that served fava beans, barbecued meat, kebabs and mabshoor, a traditional Arab dish of bread in a meat or vegetable broth. (Photos/Huda Bashatah)
  • Abdul Aziz Taher Al-Hebshi aims to preserve the history of social and cultural life in Saudi Arabia
  • Makkah in those days was a beacon for writers, poets and scientists

MAKKAH: A Saudi agricultural engineer is spending his retirement years helping to preserve the Kingdom’s architectural and cultural history — in the form of extremely accurate models of important buildings and sites in Jeddah and Makkah.

Now Abdul Aziz Taher Al-Hebshi has turned his house in Jeddah’s Al-Rawdah neighborhood into an exhibition space to showcase his models, which represent a fascinating record of daily social and cultural life in the cities in the early-to-mid 20th century.
A good example of this is his model of a “writer’s cafe” in the Misfalah neighborhood of Makkah that was once popular with writers, intellectuals and poets. Through it, he said, he aims to immortalize the role these figures played in the development of literature in Saudi Arabia and the country’s cultural history.
“Knowledgeable people told me that the cafe where Makkah’s writers, poets and intellectuals used to go to was Saleh Abdulhay Cafe, located next to Bajrad Cafe,” 72-year-old Al-Hebshi told Arab News. “Similar cafes were found throughout Makkah’s Misfalah neighborhood in the past.”
He said culture and literature thrived in Makkah in those days, along with the study of science and the quest for knowledge. The city was therefore a beacon for writers, poets and scientists, and the Saleh Abdulhay Cafe was one of the places where they could gather for intellectual and cultural discussions.
“Among the cultural and intellectual figures that used to go to the writer’s cafe … was the Saudi Minister of Culture Mohammed Abdu Yamani,” he said, adding that such venues were the country’s first literary and cultural forums, where people could gather to discuss literary and intellectual issues.
With his models and exhibition, Al-Hebshi said he wants to depict and preserve this history of day-to-day life and culture in Makkah and Jeddah in days gone by. In addition to the cafe, his models include typical houses and traditional shops that served fava beans, barbecued meat, kebabs and mabshoor, a traditional Arab dish of bread in a meat or vegetable broth.
In particular, he said he wants to immortalize the lives of the intellectuals and writers of the era by documenting their daily lives, the ways in which people interacted with them and how neighborhoods such as Misfalah developed as important cultural centers.
So far he has spent three years building his models of cafes, shops, houses and public squares. He has completed four and is working on a fifth. The task requires hard work and patience, he said. For example, it requires great effort to accurately recreate in miniature the rawasheen, the elaborately patterned wooden window frames found in old buildings in Makkah and Jeddah that maximize natural light and air flow. Great accuracy is required throughout the model making process when it comes to the sizes, dimensions and scale.
“One meter in real life is 10 centimeters in the models,” Al-Hebshi said, which represents a scale of one-to-10. “This measure seeks to maintain, as much as possible, the space’s real dimensions.”
The contents of rooms must also be in scale with the building and each other, he explained: “A bottle of Coca-Cola cannot be bigger than a watermelon and so on.” These are all important details in his models, he added, which ensure they are accurate and consistent.
Given the incredible detail and quality of the models, you would be forgiven for thinking Al-Hebshi is a trained carpenter; in fact he is an enthusiastic amateur with a true passion for the craft. Such is his dedication that even hand injuries — and the need for surgery after damaging a finger with a drill — have not kept him from his work for long.

HIGHLIGHT

Abdul Aziz Taher Al-Hebshi says he was inspired by Jeddah’s Old Town and its magnificent Hijazi buildings with rawasheen, beautifully crafted doors, ornate engravings and delicate details, along with the beauty of its landscape and old streets.

He said his model making began after he found some tools that had been abandoned in a carpentry shop, and for materials he used wood and discarded kaftans he found in stores he shopped at. Wood cutting requires great skill, he added, and while he makes most parts of his models, he said he imports some items from abroad to ensure the highest levels of accuracy. For example he buys miniature signs advertising popular international brands such as Pepsi, Miranda and 7-Up, which are difficult to recreate through woodworking.
Al-Hebshi was director of the Agricultural Bank in Jeddah when he was forced to retire in 2006 as a result of a back injury, and he found himself wondering what he could do with his time. A few years earlier he had developed an interest in woodworking but the demands of his job left him with little time to pursue it. A friend who was aware of this suggested he do something with the wood from a large felled neem tree that had been dumped in Jeddah.
“That tree turned out to be the start of me professionally building models,” he said. He added that he was inspired by Jeddah’s Old Town and its magnificent Hijazi buildings with rawasheen, beautifully crafted doors, ornate engravings and delicate details, along with the beauty of its landscape and old streets. The Saudi leadership has put a special focus on the area to showcase its history and splendor and Al-Hebshi said that this has helped him research his detailed designs.
He added that he welcomes all those who wish to visit his house, in Al-Rawdah neighborhood 3, to see his models. He plans to build more to add to his incredible picture of past life in the Kingdom, and the people who helped the country become the nation it is.


Iraq gets back looted ancient artifacts from US, others

Iraq gets back looted ancient artifacts from US, others
Updated 03 August 2021

Iraq gets back looted ancient artifacts from US, others

Iraq gets back looted ancient artifacts from US, others
  • The majority of the artifacts date back 4,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia and were recovered from the US in a recent trip by PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi
  • Iraq’s antiquities have been looted throughout decades of war and instability since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD: Over 17,000 looted ancient artifacts recovered from the United States and other countries were handed over to Iraq’s Culture Ministry on Tuesday, a restitution described by the government as the largest in the country’s history.
The majority of the artifacts date back 4,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia and were recovered from the US in a recent trip by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. Other pieces were also returned from Japan, Netherlands and Italy, Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said in a joint press conference with Culture Minister Hasan Nadhim.
Nadhim said the recovery was “the largest in the history of Iraq” and the product of months of effort between the government and Iraq’s Embassy in Washington.
“There’s still a lot of work ahead in this matter. There are still thousands of Iraqi artifacts smuggled outside the country,” he said. “The United Nations resolutions are supporting us in the international community and the laws of other countries in which these artifacts are smuggled to are on our side.”
“The smugglers are being trapped day after day by these laws and forced to hand over these artifacts,” he added.
The artifacts were handed over to the Culture Ministry in large wooden crates. A few were displayed but the ministry said the most significant pieces will be examined and later displayed to the public in Iraq’s National Museum.
Iraq’s antiquities have been looted throughout decades of war and instability since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Iraq’s government has been slowly recovering the plundered antiquities since. However, archaeological sites across the country continue to be neglected owing to lack of funds.
At least five shipments of antiquities and documents have been returned to Iraq’s museum since 2016, according to the Foreign Ministry.


Mideast, North Africa region to get 50 Best Restaurants list in 2022

Mideast, North Africa region to get 50 Best Restaurants list in 2022
50 Best Restaurants lauds Trèsind as one of the best dining establishments in Dubai. Courtesy
Updated 03 August 2021

Mideast, North Africa region to get 50 Best Restaurants list in 2022

Mideast, North Africa region to get 50 Best Restaurants list in 2022

DUBAI: In February 2022, some of the most lauded restaurateurs, fine chefs and food lovers will congregate in the UAE for the reveal of the 50 top restaurants in the region.  

It’s been announced that The World's 50 Best Restaurants, owned and run by William Reed Business Media and established in 2002, is launching a new regional restaurants list and awards program that will be hosted in Abu Dhabi early next year.

It will be the first time that a Middle Eastern country will play host to the prestigious event, which is informally known as the Oscars of fine dining.

“We are delighted that Abu Dhabi will be playing host to the awards ceremony, as the UAE capital has been establishing itself as a culinary force over recent years,” William Drew, Director of Content for 50 Best, said in a released statement.

Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants is the latest regional restaurants list and awards program since 2013, when both Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants were established. 

The list, which was born out of the magazine pages of Britain’s “Restaurant” is now widely regarded as the most highly influential ranking of its kind.

The inaugural Middle East & North Africa’s 50 Best Restaurants list will be revealed in a live countdown, along with a series of special awards, culminating in the announcement of The Best Restaurant in the Middle East & North Africa 2022. 

“The diversity of cuisines and restaurants across this wide region will ensure this new list is a vital addition to the international gastronomic landscape,” added Drew.

The ranking will be determined by 250 voters, made up of anonymous restaurant experts from 19 countries across the region, based on their best restaurant experiences. Dining establishments cannot apply to be on the list.

Meanwhile, a program of events, including a forum, chef masterclasses and dining events, will be hosted in the UAE capital in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi from Feb. 4-11, as part of the Abu Dhabi Culinary Calendar.

Some events will be open to the public on a ticketed basis, with details to be revealed later.

The gala awards ceremony is set to take place on Feb. 7.