Calligraphy and the influences of modern movements
Modern painting of Persian calligraphy.
In a post about Arabic calligraphy, the writer argues that Arabic calligraphy is largely ignored outside the Middle East and it did not enter the mainstream culture. A comment to that post raises an interesting point, that is Arabic calligraphy is seen quite often on the signs and buildings we see everyday in the newscasts about deaths in Iraq, and unfortunately, we see it on the websites of fundamentalist terrorist groups... right next to the videos of beheadings. In the popular subconscious, these sorts of images have been linked to the emotions we feel over what's going on in the Middle East lately, and... it's very unfortunate that this has happened.
In my opinion the reason that Arabic calligraphy as an art did not enter the mainstream culture extends beyond the religious and political association of Arabic calligraphy. It is because the development of Arabic calligraphic art as we know it today came as a result of a search for cultural identity.
As stated in a previous post, the desire of Islamic artists to create pictures was a current that proved to be too strong to dam. So it was inevitable that Arab artists would soon leap into the world of figural representation as the taboos began to loosen up. Since by this time churches have already been converted to mosques and vise versa, the cultural clash between the Islamic and European worlds have opened the gate for Arab artists to adopt European artistic movements and theories and apply them to local scenes found in the Arabian culture. Arabic artists have adopted the classical styles and were satisfied with going as far as the techniques of Impressionism lead them. However, Arab artists did not experiment with the more abstract modern movements such as Cubism or Surrealism until the 1950s. And when they did so, questions of Identity and cultural preservation started arising... especially at a time when Arab countries were fighting for independency from European colonization.
So as a response to the western invasion of the Arabic culture and social life, the 1950s witnessed the re-emergency of calligraphy as a way for establishing an artistic style that is clearly recognized as a local art. For this reason, it could be said Islamic calligraphy have been greatly influenced by the modern movements of abstract art, or the mainstream culture, instead of the other way around. This, in my opinion, caused Islamic calligraphy to be contained within the Islamic world because it still remains as an approach for the search of a threatened cultural identity.
That being said, Islamic calligraphy is starting to penetrate the mainstream culture lately. It is not until the 70s that the first exhibition for this new emerging style has been set up in Baghdad. Before that, there were individual efforts in experimenting with the mixture of calligraphy and modern art that does not necessarily feature Qur'anic verses, but poetry or literary works with themes like love and peace. As it gained popularity, exhibitions of this new style were arranged beyond the borders of the Islamic world, in Europe and the States. And now we can see Arabic calligraphy in the form of tattoos on people like the Portuguese football player Simao and the Swedish football star Ibrahimovic. Or as shirt designs like the one American comedian Robin Williams is wearing, which says "I love New York" in Arabic.
More info can be found here... and now here are some contemporary Arabic calligraphy works:
Painting by Hassan Massoudy of a quote by Al Hallaj which says: "My heart has eyes that see only for you, and it is completely in your hands." Note that the word "heart" is highlighted.
Another painting by Hassan Massoudy of a phrase by Khalil Gibran which says: "Will my heart become a tree laden heavily with fruit that I can pick and give to others?" The word "fruit" is highlighted.
Love and Hate by A1one a Persian artist/anarchist.
Love/Eshgh also by A1one, whose work represent the intergration of calligraphy and graffiti
A1one's solo show in Tehran, 2008.