William Schuman has written that the arts are crucial to our automated age. They serve as a creative illimination to counteract the push button emptiness of our mechanised lives, an armour against the disillusion and anxiety of our times and an added defense against the destructive forces inherent in man. As artists’ we try to make people more “human”, bridge gaps and offer an alternative to the negative bombardment of political media coverage. We are exposed daily to negative images and commentary about the Middle East. 

Untitled, 2018, Mixed media on Board, 146 x 171.5 cm

Eclectica Contemporary has therefore invited Ibrahim Khatab, an Egytian Artist, to showcase another aspect of the Middle East. In stark contrast, the emphasis is on tradition, love, beauty and a celebration of life.

The Cairo born, and based artist, passionately uses Calligraphy to express beauty, lost memory and a moment in time. Ibrahim currently lectures at the National University of Cairo and has exhibited both locally and internationally. His art showcases his knowledge and technical skills of paintings, installations and video art. Ibrahim’s artworks exhibited at Eclectica are predominantly mixed media on wooden board. This body of work visually expresses the artist’s deep love of calligraphy, as well as colour, space ,movement and arabic script which all factor heavily in his practice.

The painter Pablo Picasso once said “If I had known there was such a thing as Islamic Calligraphy, I would never have started to paint. I have strived to reach the highest levels of artistic mastery, but I found that Islamic Calligraphy was there ages before I was.” Ibrahim Khatab feels that Picasso’s appreciation, though at a voyeur’s distance, still resonates with his own sentiment. 

The art form, dating as far back as 1517 AD in Egypt, played a poignant role in the education of art and writing. Then and now, the medium is seen to be an important element of the Arabic cultural legacy, an eternal heritage that Khatab fell in love with when he was 10 year’s old. Years of honing the technical skill allowed him to use this talent as a source of income by designing banners for commercial spaces and beautifying the pilgrims’ houses who had arrived from Mecca.

Ibrahim Khatab Untitled 2018 Mixed media on Board 146 x 154 cm.jpg

Hense calligraphy and language is intertwined into Khatab’s cultural upbringing, it has become central to his designs. Included in his use of the traditional art form, are his modern experiences of the language by incorporating favoured everyday Egyptian “slang”. He describes it as “language that can’t be read but just dealt with” –  practical and functional. This is due to the continuous process of emission and addition to language by people through modernisation. Ibrahim uses two forms of Arabic script: the Thuluth is considered sacred with the soft decorative lines exuding a kind of peace contrasting the sombre mood created by the dark contours of the prestigous Diwani script. The flowing but juxtapositing of colour enhances a further evocative atmostphere of layered concepts and emotions. 

What is most striking about his work is that it presents a mix of gaiety and sadness – perhaps a natural manifestation of Khatab’s intrigue of the process of loss and memory, which his art unpacks on various levels. For this body of work he observed the words and sentences lovers used to write to each other on walls and trees. He explains how these words will stand the test of time even when those who wrote them are long gone. 

Similarly to the presence of proud heritage that is held by the Islamic calligraphy, these rocks and trees carry the feelings of what lovers engrave on their surfaces. Both eternal in their own way. These engraved surfaces witness the accumulating and overlapping effects of their intimate memories, and their merging with time. Whether the lovers continued to harbor those feelings or not, their feelings and that ‘moment’ remains beyond their fleeting abstraction of emotion. This preservation, through carvings and layered language of dialogue and script, presents itself to the passerby possibly reminding them own experiences of love.  Beyond the human experience, these memories and moments are solidified further than their transient quality as they now have greater tangible presence in the world. 
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