Writing English and having it look Arabic is quite a challenge. To startwith, the two read inopposite directions! And how do you make Western letters look Arabicand still have them legible in English? Then there areall sorts of nuances like the fact that Arabic does not follow a single,straightbaseline the way Western writing does - it kind of runs in fallingcadences on a set of lines like a musical stave. The strokes also haveparticularproportions not easily given to Western writing. In fact, Arabic canhave some pretty stiff rules for a script that looks so free flowing. Agenuine Khattaat (calligrapher) may scoff at these efforts and I wouldcertainly respond with humility.
Luckily for me, my brief in this case was broader than Arabic:borrowing mainly from Ancient Persian, I just had to give it a niceexotic Spice Route feel. I tried to make it look illegible, while atsame time having it easily read on closer inspection. My only regret isnot having enough space to really cut loose in thehorizontal. A strong horizontal movement is the main designfeature of Arabic.
Please note that although the calligraphy is the focus of thesephotographs, it was not the focus of the exhibition. It merely played asupportive role to the wonderful collection of hand made clothes andjewellery collected by Sue Robinson over many years of exploring the areacovered by the Spice Route.
The exhibition was staged at the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town in September 2009.All told, this has to be one of the most enjoyable jobs I did this year.
- Andrew van der Merwe