Iraqi calligrapher Hassan Massoudy's unique style uses traditional elements, which he fears will soon be known to only a select few.
Calligraphy exists all around us, if one would just care to take a look. Logos, signboards, writing and more. While they may incorporate some common elements, no two are alike. And yet their rich ancestry may become endangered if more is not done to preserve and enhance it, renowned Iraqi calligrapher Hassan Massoudy told Weekend Review.
"Arabic calligraphy is a versatile form and has a long history, stretching from the Kufi style in the 11th century to the Tugra, which was used extensively by the Ottoman Empire before its decline in the early 20th century," he said. "The challenge nowadays for calligraphers and others who are interested in this medium is how to preserve these forms in the modern world. I do not think they will die out, but there is a risk they will become known just to a select few."
His latest works were showcased at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Festival recently. More than 40 pieces, incorporating words or phrases from different works, such as traditional sayings, songs or poems, were on show at the Ghaf Gallery under the theme "Gestures of Light".
"It is the most natural art form that could be represented … in an Arab country. In the UAE, there is a [growing] interest in calligraphy … and it is remarkable," Massoudy, who has lived in Paris for 42 years, said. "I believe one way to preserve this part of our cultural heritage is to incorporate it into computer fonts … like the hundreds that already exist. Who knows, maybe one day, you will see my style included among them."
Nearly 13 years ago, Massoudy decided it was time to create his own style, having already created his own tools and type of ink.
"It was time … even though I studied the masters, I don't use the traditional sequence of creating letters. I start with the first and then the last, before filling in the rest of the word … so I began using large and small bamboo brushes to create larger strokes," Massoudy said. "I also use colour, which is not traditional. And recently, I began using canvas instead of paper, as it offers new potential to showcasing calligraphy."
However, he refuses to be labelled as a modern artist, insisting that his work is constantly evolving and he incorporates elements of both the past and present.
"I constantly study history, especially Islamic history, to see the different calligraphic elements that have arisen … in fact, whenever I make a painting, I try to imagine what past calligraphers would have done," Massoudy said.
"It is very important for me to create something new every day because yesterday's work does not matter anymore … I never know where my art may take me at any given moment, which is why I never talk about my future works," Massoudy added.
making a mark
Hassan Massoudy was born in 1944 in Najaf, Iraq. He moved to Baghdad in 1961 to study under several prominent teachers of classical calligraphy before circumstances caused him to leave Iraq for Paris in 1969, where he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts). In 1972 he began a 13-year tour of Europe with Arabesque, a multimedia performance integrating music, poetry, movement and calligraphy. In the meantime, in 1975, he received his degree.
Apart from featuring in major international collections, including the British Museum, London; the National Museum of Jordan; the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris; the Sharjah Museum; and the Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands, Massoudy’s works are also found in many public and private collections.