Just back from Australia, where I taught one of the most talented groups of calligraphers I have ever encountered. The trip was squeezed in between projects in Belgium, so I had no time to see the country, but it was worth it nevertheless. Two classes in five days, each with surprising results. The great reward of being a teacher is to survey the work of your students and say, silently, “I wish I had done that!”
Delayed flights gave me an unexpected day in Doha, where I saw the new Museum of Islamic Art, completed by I. M. Pei in 2008 at the youthful age of 89! A building beyond belief and a collection that stunned at every moment. It was fascinating to see how closely the earliest Korans on display, older still than the monumental kufic Korans, resembled other phonetic scripts. The distance between Arabic script as we know it and Hebrew, Latin, Greek and so on, came with Islam, was created to brand the new book and give it a new look.
In Australia I set the students the task of copying a kufic text, which they did with panache. Solid, physical letters that are sculpted rather than written. Tense black/white relationships that suggest a new metaphysics being born at the head of the Arabian Gulf at the same time that Charlemagne’s scribes were creating a new minuscule letter.