Art exhibition: Fresh spin on calligraphy

Two artists present their distinct styles.

Maryam Usman June 17, 2014
The artists’ signature styles are written all over their pieces. PHOTO: EXPRESS


An exhibition of contemporary calligraphy by two artists Shahzad Zar and Mian Athar opened at the Nomad Gallery on Tuesday. The show features 32 calligraphy pieces.

The concept of the artworks on display stems from the idea that the contribution of the Muslim world to an arena of arts, sciences and academia is often overlooked, stereotyped or taken for granted. Moving away from this norm, the displayed calligraphy pieces, with their geometric shapes and unconventional colour palette, showcase some fresh ideas.

Nageen Hyat, the gallery’s curator, said that the exhibition, while drawing reference from the traditional art of calligraphy, is in the contemporary cultural context, with particular reference to recent efforts to modernise Islamic calligraphy on the one hand “Islamicise modern art” and on the other, or such constructs as “calligraph-art.

Originally a landscape painter, Athar took up calligraphy over a decade back. He has innovated traditional calligraphy by painting transparent water colours in monochromatic themes and offset the Arabic lettering with neon colours.

His work is distinct because of the subtle flow, movement and wet-on-wet effect of the water colours which is prominent in three of his most recent art pieces.

Based out of Dubai, he visited the country specifically to exhibit his calligraphy pieces. “I’ve taken the liberty to exaggerate the flow that old masters have usually worked with in their calligraphy practice. After experimenting for a while, I’ve arrived at my artistic signature,” he said.

Commenting on Athar’s work, the noted water colourist Riffat Khattak said, “Athar has kept the essence of water colours as well as calligraphy intact, while juxtaposing them in his work which is a novelty.”

Meanwhile, Zar, who has been trained by late Ali Imam, the renowned artist, paints over dried leaves, in turn forming a collage of colour and texture. Ironing out the moisture from the leaves, he pastes them together with white glue and sprays lacquer to keep bacteria at bay before painting acrylic over the organic surfaces. The earthen tones complement solid colours in his artworks, coming together in an eclectic, visual harmony.

In the current exhibition, he has revisited the medium to express himself. He has painted calligraphy in a rhythmic flow, transparent and harmonious overlapping of colours. He has held solo exhibitions in the country and abroad.

David, a guest at the exhibition, commented on Zar’s work, saying, “I like the colours, even though I cannot understand what’s written in the text. Nevertheless, the sapphire tones particularly stand out.”

The current exhibition will continue at the gallery until June 30 from 10:30pm to 7pm except Friday. The artworks can also be viewed at the gallery’s website.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2014.


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