Muscat: In an age when e-books are on the rise and sales of printed books are declining, one man still dares to make books by hand, putting a passion for his culture and history into each page.
Jamal Abdul Rahim, a 48-year-old Bahraini artist, has documented the Sufi poetry of Omar Khayyam, Um Khoulthum's lyrics, modern Arab poetry and other subjects in his limited edition books, all of which are made using printmaking techniques. He brought some of his books to Bait Al Baranda for the Muscat Art Festival, where Times of Oman caught up with him.
"Our civilization in the Middle East is a book civilization and language civilization. In this area we made mythology and religion and poetry," Jamal said, explaining his inspiration.
As a child he enjoyed drawing but only thought of it as a hobby. He studied engineering drawing at a university in India and worked for a time as a draftsman, but always had an interest in doing more than technical drawings. He learned how to draw figures, still lives, hands and other artistic forms of drawing.
Soon, his love of art took over, and he expanded his knowledge to painting, sculpting and printmaking, a skill he learned from Bahraini artist Abdel-Jabbar Ghadban. For the past 25 years, he has dedicated much of his time to printmaking and even has one of the biggest printmaking studios in the GCC, in the cultural district of Al Muharraq in Bahrain, where he lives.
In 1995, he decided to use his printmaking skills to make books. His books aren't like any other. Rather, they are filled with large vivid, hand-printed pages, with colourful images and calligraphy.
"From that first one, in 1995, I started going deeper and deeper and deeper, until this day, when I have made 30 books," Jamal explained.
The books are made with etching, silk-screen, plastic engraving, and gold and silver foiling, with no more than 100 of each being printed. Each book has a limited number of pages, sometimes just 10 or 12, but each is a work of art and signed and numbered by the artist himself. He has plans for others books, too.
"I like to work with books because they have colours and smells. The technology today doesn't give you that," he said.
When he isn't busy making his books, Jamal spends his spare time reading books. "I have may be between 3,000 and 4,000 books in my house. When I retired, my boss asked me what I would do. I said 'I have my painting and I have around 3,000 books. This is enough for me to live all my life'," he said with a smile.