Muscat: The exhibition 'Calligraphy - The Art of the Letter' is a group show currently being hosted by Gallery Sarah at Bait Al Zubair.
The exhibition brings together an eclectic mix of talented Arabic calligraphers and typographers who are pushing the boundaries of the art form into new directions.
Calligraphy is the most highly regarded and most fundamental element of Arabic art.
Calligraphy is principally a means to transmit a text, usually in a decorative form.
The development of sophisticated calligraphy as an art form is not unique to Arab culture.
Other examples include Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, and illuminated bibles.
In the Arab world, however, calligraphy has been used to a much greater extent and in astonishingly varied and imaginative ways, which have taken the written word far beyond pen and paper, into all art forms and materials.
For these reasons, calligraphy may be counted as a uniquely original feature of Arab art. The genius of Arabic calligraphy lies not only in its endless creativity and versatility, but also in the balance struck by calligraphers between transmitting a text and expressing its meaning through a formal aesthetic code.
The two predominant styles used in Arabic calligraphy are the Kufic and Nashk styles.
Kufic is the oldest form of Arabic script. The style emphasises rigid and angular lines, which appears as a modified form of the old Nabataean script. The archaic Kufic consisted of about 17 letters, without diacritic dots or accents. Afterwards, dots and accents were added to help readers with pronunciations, and the number of Arabic letters rose to 29.
Kufic was developed around the end of the 7th century in the areas of Kufa, Iraq, from which it takes its name.
The style later developed into several varieties, including floral, foliated, plaited or interlaced, bordered, and squared kufi. This was the main script used to copy the Holy Quran from the 8th to 10th century, and went out of general use in the 12th century when the flowing Naskh style become more practical, although it continued to be used as a decorative element to contrast superseding styles.
Naskh is a specific calligraphic style that became popularised after the Kufi style, thought to be invented by the calligrapher Ibn Muqlah Shirazi.
A well-defined cursive, called Naskh, first appeared in the 10th century. The root of this Arabic term, nasakh, means "to copy". It either refers to the fact that it replaced its predecessor, Kufic script, or that this style allows faster copying of texts. With small modifications, it is the style most commonly used for printing Arabic, Persian, Pashto and Sindhi languages.
This type of script was derived from Thuluth by introducing a number of modifications resulting in smaller size and greater delicacy. It is written using a small, very fine pen known as a cava pen, which makes the script eminently suitable for use in book production.
It was and is still a very widely used form of script and has become the basis of modern Arabic print.
Today, contemporary calligraphers exploit the inherent possibilities of Arabic script to create writing as ornament. An entire word can give the impression of random brushstrokes, or a single letter can develop into a decorative knot.
Arabic calligraphy has outgrown its initial purpose of writing and communication to become a form of independent art that was widely used from writing the words of the Holy Quran, to quotes and poetry.
In the digital era, modern designers and calligraphers are still using Arabic calligraphy as an essential element of their designs.
While many contemporary calligraphers and designers use the standard script styles, others prefer to use a free style, which is not restricted by the writing rules of any of the known standard scripts.
This freestyle relies on the beauty of Arabic letters and how they can be curved, twisted, and reshaped to form a visual melody and eye catching artwork.
Unlike old Arabic calligraphy, which had been written in ink with a pen or dried bamboo, modern calligraphers experiment with different materials, such as acrylic paint, watercolour, oil paint, graphics and even sculpture clay.
The exhibition will run until the end of August and is open to the public from 9:30am to 6pm, Saturday to Thursday, at Bait Al Zubair.