Thursday, February 09, 2017

'Calligraphies of Love' marries Hassan Massoudy's art to inspirational quotes




If you pass by Al Saqi bookshop in London's Westbourne Grove and glance at its windows your attention is likely to be arrested by a large display in which the word Love appears repeatedly. Get closer and you will see that the display comprises multiple copies of a book entitled Calligraphies of Love. The book carries on its cover a striking calligraphic illustration and the name of the Iraqi artist Hassan Massoudy.

Al Saqi's window (pic courtesy of Saqi)

Publication of this new title by Saqi Books could hardly be more timely, not only because Valentine's Day is fast approaching but also because, with so much hate in the world at the moment, love seems in short supply.

Your eyes, two dark palm groves just before dawn.
Or two balconies, under a distant moon

Badr Shaker Al-Sayyab (1927-1964) 

The book marries Massoudy's sublime calligraphy-based art with inspirational quotes on many aspects of love. The quotes come from poems and proverbs, ancient and  modern, from around the world: sources include Rumi, Gibran, Ibn Zaydoun, Donne, Majnoun Leyla, Gide, Keats and The Thousand and One Nights.  Elisabeth Jaquette translated the quotes from Arabic, and Sophie Lewis the quotes from French. The attractive design of the 128-page book is by Somar Kawkabi. The format is relatively small at 18cm by 16cm,  just the right size to fit into a handbag or generous pocket.

Where there is love there is life 

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) 

The book's introduction is by Austrian national Saeb Eigner, a banker and financial expert with a deep interest in the arts and education.  He was the British Museum’s Senior Advisor to the books accompanying the ‘Word into Art’ exhibitions  (London, 2006 and Dubai 2008 ) and is the author of Art of the Middle East (Merrell, London 2010, expanded edition 2015) and its French edition L’Art du Moyen-Orient  (Éditions du Toucan,2010).


 Hassan Massoudy 

Hassan Massoudy was born in Najaf, Iraq in 1944, He moved in 1969 to France, where he studied at L'École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He still has his studio in Paris. His work has been widely exhibited in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and is to be found in several permanent collections including those of the British Museum and the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts. Nineteen books of his calligraphy have been published in France, as has his autobiography Si loin de l'Euphrate: Une jeunesse d'artiste en Irak.

The beauty you see in me is a 
reflection of you.

Rumi (13th century)

In his introduction Eigner writes of the lasting impact that Massoudy's childhood experiences of calligraphy and colour in Najaf has had on his work. "Anyone who has visited Hassan's studio, along Paris' river Seine on the Quai de la Marne, cannot but sense the influence those early years have had on him. The walls of his atelier are adorned with beautiful calligraphic compositions, in colour and in black and white, based on short phrases that he has collected from around the world.

"The words are in Arabic and often translated into French, and include poetry, quotes by celebrated literary figures as well as proverbs and words of popular wisdom as his mother might have used. One word is picked out, and sits at the centre of each composition, while the phrase in its entirety is beautifully written below, mainly in a script reminiscent of traditional Kufic. The studio is clean and orderly, and the overall atmosphere is one of serenity, installing a sense of calm in all those who visit."


Where there is love, there is no
room for darkness

Mediterranean proverb

review by Susannah Tarbush, London 

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