Behind the reception at Al Badia Golf Club this month is a painting that captures the attention of most visitors, whether they are interested in art or not. In it, the sweeping white calligraphic curves – against an azure background with a sun-like disc emerging from the centre – are reminiscent of a ship out at sea or a dramatic skyscape, but they actually spell out a verse of the Quran. The smaller words dance across the canvas and as you get closer, the detail and juxtaposition of colour is quite stunning. Even if you cannot read Arabic, the painting, called Surat Kausar, is completely engaging.
The artist is Tariq Bin Qullander, a young Pakistani quickly gaining international recognition, although this is only his second exhibition in Dubai. Represented by Mussawir Art Gallery in Al Quoz, Bin Qullander, who only ever goes by his last name, is one of four calligraphic artists on display in the golf club, which is actually the permanent home of another gallery – Art Couture.
For Captivating Calligraphy, the two galleries came together in collaboration to present work both felt was relevant for Ramadan, Eid and the month of August.
“A lot of other places are really quiet during the summer but this is the busiest time of the year for us,” explains Cynthia Richards, the founder of Art Couture. “We haven’t welcomed another gallery here before but when Mussawir approached us, I felt that this art was really perfect for the space.”
The show opened on August 1 and at least 200 people visited daily until the end of Ramadan and Eid. Even since then, the steady stream of visitors to the golf club means the art is getting more of an audience than it would in Al Quoz at this time of year.
“I’m really glad we collaborated with Art Couture for that reason,” says Naila Fancy, a co-director of Mussawir. “We have exposure to many different audiences here and if our artists can gain more recognition, then that is the most important thing.”
Mussawir was set up in December last year solely to represent Pakistani artists. Fancy, who has been collecting Pakistani art for the past 20 years, went into partnership with Mohamad Ramzan, the owner of Ejaz Gallery in Lahore, to open the space in Dubai. “We found art from Pakistan was very under--represented here and they are doing absolutely phenomenal stuff that deserves to be seen,” says Fancy.
And, if Bin Qullander’s work is anything to go by, then we tend to agree.
Joining him in the exhibition is Noreen Akhtar, who, like Bin Qullander, graduated from the National College of Arts in Lahore, an institution with a solid repertoire of talented graduates including Waqas Khan, one of this year’s Jameel Prize nominees, and Imran Qureshi, who now teaches there and is a leading figure in the regional art scene.
Akhtar uses paper cutting, embossing and ink in her mixed-media work that clearly takes inspiration from miniature painting. She meticulously repeats the name of Allah throughout the work, encapsulating the nature of worship. This is the first time Akhtar has been exhibited anywhere and according to Ramzan’s expert eye, she is definitely a talent to watch in the future.
The other two artists in the show are Arif Khan and Ahmed Khan. The latter is thought of as Pakistan’s greatest living calligraphic artist and his work involves a labour-intensive process of embossing designs in silver leaf foil on canvas and then using a chemical wash to turn them into vibrant colours.
Now in his 70s, Khan has been sold at Bonhams and Christie’s. Ramzan refers to him as “the master” and says it gives him great pleasure to bring his work to new audiences.