LONDON: At first glance, readers of “Calligraphies of the Desert,” a new release by leading Iraqi painter and calligrapher Hassan Massoudy, will be tempted to describe it as a visual treat; a stunning calligraphic interpretation of the desert. However, they may very well reconsider this reading of the text as they navigate their way through the book.
More than just a splendid calligraphy book, “Calligraphies of the Desert” is a masterful survey of writings about the Arabian desert, collected by Hassan’s wife, Isabelle Massoudy. The collection, we learn in an introduction by Isabelle, was prompted by the France-based couple’s multiple trips to the deserts of Egypt, Tunisia and Mauritania, as well as by Isabelle’s strong urge to “recover a little of that desert in Paris” by reading widely and devouring texts on the desert by renowed poets and writers.
The authors of these texts, Isabelle says, “expressed in their writings a fair share of the emotions I had felt but could not yet express in words.” The result is an exquisitely made book — a collaboration between Hassan and Isabelle — that features texts by Rumi, Goethe, Baudelaire, Khalil Gibran, Al-Mutanabbi and Rabindranath Tagore, among others. Most of the texts are complemented by English/Arabic translations. Accompanying these segments are Hassan’s own magnificent calligraphic interpretations of many of them.
Hassan’s strokes are reminiscent of the desert. A desert color palette caresses his drawings: Shades of sand-yellow give way to a vibrant orange, before waltzing through a pulsating red-brown and stopping by other darker shades of brown. Likewise, the strokes are imbued with a sense of movement; they dance and twirl and whirl just like the desert’s sand waves.
“Calligraphies” is in many ways a celebration of the vast desert expanse — the laborious journey toward it, the silence and contemplation it brings to the traveler, as well as an appreciation of the path it enables toward knowledge of both self and the world.