Some Modest Proposals For Islamic Artists

Some interesting/insightful words from Mohamed Zakariya about art, being an artist and being a Muslim artist in the modern world.

Rather than being exotic, living museum exhibits, we need to bring the concept of what it means to be modern to our very classic arts, yet preserve and maintain its special originality and quality and its relation to the continuum of Islamic practices.

Video: Behzad Noei

I received this video from Noor-Allah Ayany in Iran. It features the calligrapher Behzad Noei at work. In this video he write a poem by Hafez. The translation is: “Friend (metaphor of God or Beloved) has entirely filled my entity, till I lost myself.”

Thank you Noor-Allah!

Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World

Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World


I am posting belatedly about a film aired on PBS on July 6th, 2012, entitled Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World. The documentary film was narrated by Susan Sarandon, and includes some fabulous footage and interviews with the calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya.

You can view clips of the film on the website, or purchase a DVD of the film on

The light images of Julien Breton

Julien Breton

The French artist Julien Breton, also known as Kalaam, spent a week in October in New York City, capturing some amazing works of “light calligraphy.” His work is inspired by Arabic calligraphy, but uses a latin-based script of his own devising.

See more images of his work on the designboom blog, or check out Julien’s website.

BBC’s the World: Master of Islamic calligraphy shares his craft

Mohamed Zakariya will be featured today on BBC’s “The World” radio program, which can be heard in the Washington area at 8 pm on WAMU, 88.5 FM. You can also hear the program here:

Wissam Shawkat

Wissam Shawkat is one of my favorite calligraphy artists. Based in Dubai, he is an extremely talented calligrapher, as well as an exceptionally kind person. When I first contacted him to ask permission to include his work in the Calligraphy Qalam gallery (search for shawkat), he not only gave me permission, but sent me additional images to include!

Wissam recently contacted me to let me know that he has launched a new website, On this website you will find a wonderful mix of his contemporary and traditional calligraphy work—everything from fine art to logos, typography, environmental graphics, and graphic design work. I’ve included a few of my favorites below, with his permission. I encourage you to check out his site—and get ready to be inspired.

American Qur’an

I recently found out about a fascinating project by the artist Sandow Birk, who is working to create an “American” Qur’an. The lettering and illustration for this manuscript are informed by a uniquely American aesthetic, which contrasts sharply with more traditional manuscripts found in the Middle East. Below is a description of the project:

[This is] an ongoing project to hand-transcribe the entire Qur’an according to historic Islamic traditions and to illuminate the text with relevant scenes from contemporary American life. Five years in the making, the project has been inspired by a decade of extended travel in Islamic regions of the world and undertaken after extensive research.

To find out more, visit:

Arabic Calligraphy, Sichuan Style

These works were sent to me by a calligrapher named Abdullah Ma-qibing. Abdullah is a Chinese Muslim from Chengdu. I thought that in light of the recent media attention given to the conflict between Chinese Muslims and the Chinese government in Urumqi, it would be fitting to feature the work of this artist. Each piece is written on traditional Chinese rice paper, using calligraphy pens 4-5 cm wide.




Winner of the Jameel Prize 2009

From the Victoria and Albert Museum (

On 7 July 2009 Iranian born Afruz Amighi was awarded the first Jameel Prize for her work 1001 Pages (2008). The Prize, worth £25,000, is an international art prize launched by the V&A to award contemporary artists and designers inspired by the Islamic traditions of craft and design.

1001 Pages is from a series of shadow pieces in which Amighi uses light and shadow to create complex and engaging designs. She employs a stencil burner to hand-cut the design from a thin, porous sheet of plastic – a material used in the construction of refugee tents. The work is suspended, and an overhead projector illuminates the piece, which casts a shadow of the intricate pattern against a wall. The winning work is on display in the new Studio Gallery (8 July – 13 September) alongside work by the 8 other artists shortlisted for The Jameel Prize.

For more information, visit the Victoria and Albert Museum’s website:



Music of the Eye

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to meet Sanaa Boutayeb Naim, a Moroccan filmmaker who lives here in Washington, DC. In the fall of 2008 she produced a documentary feature about master calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya, and kindly allowed me to feature the video on the blog. In this 11-minute documentary, Mohamed Zakariya offers insight into the art of Arabic script calligraphy. I’m sure you’ll enjoy watching.