The impression of a calligraphist is that of a person hunched over a piece of paper, dipping his quill in ink and painstakingly (literally) creating beautiful words. Ad agency professional Muhammed Shahal proves that the image is, clearly, dated. His exhibition of contemporary Arabian calligraphy, ‘Signatures of Divinity' is on at Durbar Hall Art Gallery.

Venerated art form

A calligraphist, one imagines, has spent years mastering the art. Arabic calligraphy, especially, is considered a venerated form of art in Islam as passages and proverbs from the Koran are sources for calligraphy. Shahal, at the outset, clarifies that he has not spent too much time learning calligraphy. He is a student of fine arts and ‘can paint,' but other than that no formal training in calligraphy. Years spent working as a visualiser for an ad agency resulted in no time to pursue his creative urge and this exhibition is also his launch vehicle into the fickle world of art.

“Calligraphy is something that is not seen too much when it comes to art exhibition and that is why I wanted to have such an exhibition,” says Shahal, “the works on show are abstract calligraphies derived from 12 names of Allah (from the 99 names of Allah). These 12 qualities are those which people like us can adopt and adapt,” he says. In addition there is a 13th one called ‘The Basmalah' (derived from b-ismi-illahi-r-rahmani-r-rahim). The paintings are abstract and semi-abstract, as far as the medium goes it is acrylic on canvas with the calligraphy.

The abstract part of the paintings seeks to convey some aspect of the quality that is mentioned. For instance there is ‘Ar Raqeeb' (the Watchful One) which has several Turkish lanterns in many hues, the warm ambers and reds suggesting that the lamps are lit. An expansion of ‘Ar Raqeeb' is that one ‘should be aware that he is always under the surveillance of God.' The text is interspersed with the painting, and the text goes with the flow of the artists' brush. ‘Ash Shakoor' (The most grateful) in warm hues of ochre and yellow extols one to be grateful for the virtues and kindness of others. The other paintings are ‘Al Khabeer', ‘Al Adl', ‘Ar Raheem', ‘Al Waasi', ‘Al Musawwir', ‘Al Ghaffaar', ‘Al Haleem', ‘Al Muhaymin', ‘An Noor' and ‘As Swaboor.'

Is there significance attached to the number 12? “A client in West Asia wanted a calendar with the sacred names and that is where the idea germinated,” he says. Unlike the calendar which incorporated traditional calligraphy this one is more of Shahal's self expression he says. Also, this is his attempt to give this brand of calligraphy a secular appeal, “it is easy for people to relate to it and try to practise it.”

The show concludes on Feb. 5.