Islamic Calligraphy: Contemporary Variations on an Ancient Art

Exhibition of recent artwork
By Internationally recognized artist Mamoun Sakkal

An art exhibition of Mamoun Sakkal's calligraphic work at the Peal Gallery at the King Library University of Kentucky April 19 to April 28, 2001

Artist Statement
Drawing and painting are some of the earliest activities I remember doing while growing up in Aleppo, Syria. When I was about nine years old, the first institute for art instruction opened in my city and I immediately enrolled. During the following years, I learned about print making, sculpting, and some calligraphy, in addition to drawing and painting. The wars with Israel in '67 and '73 brought doubts about our life and beliefs. Despite my admiration for the European traditions of art, the only traditions I had learned, I started to have serious doubts about their appropriateness in communicating with my town’s folk. I felt that I was isolated from the majority of my people and wanted to reach them through my artwork. This was a reflection of a deeper alienation I had from the visual heritage of my own culture. My artwork barely revealed an Arab or a Muslim artist at work.

Since then I have embarked on a quest to understand the visual heritage of my country more intimately, and to explore the possibilities it provides for producing artwork which is more relevant to the lives of the majority, not the minority. Artwork that has local roots and speaks to the deepest emotions and aspirations of my people. This search has lead me to consider new ways of visual expression not only in fine art, but also in architecture, interior design, and graphic design.

In the mid 1960’s I experimented with the use of calligraphy in drawings and paintings. My early work involved letter forms I modified to give contemporary, abstract shapes. These works were influenced at the time by pioneering Arab artists who started to use calligraphy in their paintings in the 1950’s and 60’s. Since then, many other artists around the world realized the inherent value of the Arabic letter-forms as a rich visual vocabulary. Since the early 1990’s my work incorporated more traditional calligraphic forms which are presented in a modern garb of coloring and composition, and with more emphasis on order and structure.

I am trying at present to explore abstract patterns as a medium for visual expression that goes beyond mere decoration by bringing out their emotional and poetic qualities. I am also working on a series of prints that incorporate fragments of old buildings, sometimes coupled with calligraphy, as I become increasingly homesick and burn with a desire to express my love and attachment to a place which seems so remote now, yet so close to my soul.

For artwork samples please click here.

For graphic design samples please click here.

For background information on Arabic calligraphy please click here.

For Mamoun Sakkal's biography please click here.


In Lexington, Kentucky please call:

Dr. Suleiman Darrat (859) 257-7037.

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