Arabic Hurufiyya:

Art And Identity By Charbel Dagher

Published by Skira

ISBN 978-88-572-3151-8

Tim Epps

I have to declare an interest, I’ve always loved calligraphy. In England written communications moved towards movable type instead of the cursive form. Of course, our proliferation of typefaces has allowed a rich seam of expression. In Arabic, however, the cursive handwritten form remains. Its depiction contains character that cannot be described in any other way; the “medium is the message”. The hurufiyya movement arose in the 14th century. How interesting then to find that a group of artists, building on this ancient beginning and using artistic techniques of the 1940s came together, sometimes operating independently, to use calligraphic forms as images in their own right referencing artistic developments in other parts of Europe, notably Paris.

Language is the basis of hurufiyya and at the center of a composition; a letter, a word, an expression or a sentence of text and “modern art”. This basis has provided a wide divergence of expression as works of art, often drawing on the western concept of abstraction.

This deeply thoughtful and analytical book explores the immense variety and sources of hurufiyya and categorises them into their various styles. In it, artists explain their various inspirations from that calligraphic beginning. To move from the “linguistic reference” to its symbolic or deeper spiritual significance. The many forms portrayed are incredibly different, but always exploring the relation with the written word, however abstract, and its depiction in many media.

The book, which was originally published in Arabic in 1990, brings its deeply illuminating perceptive landmark text again to the public, and shows that the hurufiyya movement is alive in the Arab world and shows artistic experimentation and exploration continuing in a way that we can understand and empathise with.

The written word seems to cross boundaries of language and communicates directly through the medium. This book is a scholarly account of the breadth and creativity of the hurufiyya movement.

Kensington, Chelsea & Westminster Today​, London, may 2017