About writing and about calligraphy,
Answers to E. Court (Jun 2006)
(1) when does Arabic writing become Calligraphy?
1- Writing – in general – becomes calligraphy when the writer is willing to make calligraphie out of the written marks.Calligraphy is a question of desire .The desire to make a well written sign situates the writer in an aesthetical research attitude.The research attitude is an open attitude , a project attitude in the sens that the writer desires an aesthetically better sign.Such a sign is supposed to attract and to the gaze. Its a seduction machine.
To make a « better » written sign , the writer is supposed to take care of material aspects of the writing practice :
-The understanding of the potentialities of the writing tools and objects.Writing is a special relationship with objects.
-The handeling of the writing tools in relation to the body of the writer.Writing is a corporal activity, some sorte of an applied choreography designed to realise a specific graphic order.
- The possibility of making pictures with the writing marks.If the written word is the picture of the idea,as in the ancient pre- alphabetical pictography system, then writing is one way – among others- of making pictures.
Within this perspective all the personal writings contain a calligraphic potentiality,and may be a concient aesthetical ambition.But « all the personal writings» do not become Calligraphy out of a personal desire. Calligraphie is also a question of power, political power.The representatives of political power need calligraphy as an emblem of efficiant readability.Political power is based on the readability of its actions and directives.In this connection between aesthetics and politics the representatives of power select the calligraphic type that seems more efficiant to bear the political charge of the image they expect others(the people) to receive .With the democratization of education , it is the State that decides the type of calligraphy to be applied in the educational system.
(2) is it accurate that calligraphy uses Arabic for graphic vocabulary in re-presentation, making images?
(2) I think the links between calligraphy and writing are simple and complex at the same time.It seems to me that calligraphie, as a graphic practice, is totaly independent from writing even if its historical evolution was related to the fonction of beautiful writing.Basicly, calligraphers invent a specific graphic coherence to produce and communicate a visual meaning ( an image) while writers use an already existing graphic system to produce and communicate a literary meaning( a text).So if the writer applies the calligraphic rules just to produce a readable texte, then he is not concerned with image making( even if the beautiful marks he obtains suggest an image).In the other hand, the calligrapher who may produce a texte, while inventing his graphical image, could be indifferent to the literrary meaning.The great calligrapher « Ibn Moqla »(886 – 939) wrote the text of a peace convention between Muslim and Byzantine states.The people of the Byzantine court were so admirative of the elegant graphic work that they used to exhibit the text of Ibn Moqla, as a fine art work , regularly to a Byzantine audience who can not read arabic writing.Never the less, the Byzantine people enjoyed reading the image in the work of the arabic calligrapher.In the early 90, the french couturier, Karl Lagerfeld, designed a collection of robes de soirée for Chanel.In some of his designs he embroidered arabic calligraphy.The designer, who ignores arabic writing, read only the fine visual image of arabic calligraphy.It happened that the arabic text was coranic verses.(see photo).The American magazine( I think it wa News Week) who reported the incident said that the designer had to destroy the whole collection with arabic calligraphy after being menaced by muslim fundamentalists from south eastern Asia ( Indonisia).In this particular situation it is important to note that the asian muslims usualy read coranic text translated in their own writing while the arabic text appears in a double line, as a visual illustration. I think that both the french designer and his Indonisian islamists delt with the arabic writing as a visual representation of Allah.
If calligraphy could be independant from writing,writing suggests calligraphy to the « gazer »(« le regardeur » as Marcel Duchamp may put it) beyond the intention of the writer.This is where Graphology enlarges the definition of calligraphy to include all types of writings as images.According to graphologists writing is an image of the writer s personality , even if the writer is indifferent to image making.The graphologist approach accepts all the personal writings as a possible unique calligray.Thus the official calligraphic writing becomes one possible way, among other ways, of organising the writing marks.
(3) I recall, you are self-taught in calligraphy, learned as an adult, as an aspect of Sudanism, more general Islamic culture, your version of Chinese? formal purposes to enhance your mark-making?
(3) When I firest came to arabic calligraphy (I think I was 13 years old) it was related to writing activity in an intermediant school mural journal( « Assalam » :peace in arabic).I remember I used to write the title in an « artistic way ». I was not concient about calligraphy.For me it was just drawing.At the secondary school I was good enough to gain money decorating the cars and buses or writing commercial signs, thanks to « Sambo » , a neighbour who runs a car painting workshop.So when I arrived to the art school of Khartoum I was already aware that arabic calligraphy is celeberated as an element of sudanese cultural identity.Salahi and Shibrai and their students were so proud to repeat that at all the occasions.When I arrived at the art school (1970) the « Khartoum School » was almost the official theory of « Sudanese art ».I think the political situation of the seventies in Sudan pushed us in a different direction againest the « Khartoumists » and the political autority that supported them.We were politicaly and artisticly incompatible. Although this situation made me suspicious about the identity discours related to arabic calligraphy, I never really interrupted my plastic interrogations and researches in calligraphy, whether it was arabic, latin or chinese calligraphy.I think working on chinese calligraphy helped me to bring my calligraphy into the painting zone.It helped me to understand the way great contemporary painters think their practice(I am thinking of artists like Antonio Tapies, Motherwell, Soulages, Hartung , Alechinisky , Twombly).