Monday, January 3, 2011

Magnificent Islamic Artists' Books at the BNF

by Stephen J. Gertz

Binding, Egypt, late fourteenth century on Koran, XXI juz '.
BNF, Oriental manuscripts (Arabic 5845)

Islamic binding has a rich history. The most sumptuous early bindings featured starred polygons or central motifs and were made to order for the Mameluke sovereigns.

Binding, Egypt, between 1382 and 1399. On Koran XXVI juz '.
BNF, Oriental manuscripts (Arabic 5846)

Under the Ottomans, the mandorla, an almond-shaped central design, was adopted.

Binding, Turkey, late sixteenth century. To 'Umar ibn al-Farid, Diwan
(Collection of poems).
BNF, Oriental manuscripts (Arabic 3151)

Let us now alight on a magic carpet and ride into the late twentieth century to view a sampling of modern Islamic artists' books.

Hasan Massoudy, calligraphy. Lithograph, 1992.
BNF, Prints and Photographs (Cf1 twentieth century gd ft 4)

Massoudy Hasan, born in Iraq in 1944, learned calligraphy in Baghdad. From 1969 to 1975 he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He lives in France, where he leads workshops and writes books on Arabic calligraphy. The handwritten sentence at lower edge is a quote from Andre Gide: "Wisdom is not in reason but in love. "

Ghani Alani, Iqra '- the bi-Qalam ("Lily" - By the pen "), 2000.
Calligraphy and illumination. Private Collection.

Ghani Alani was born in Baghdad where he studied calligraphy. He has lived in France since 1969.  The text contains verses from the Koran (ICVI, 1-4): "Read in the name of your Lord who created! He created man from a clot of blood. Read! For thy Lord is Most Generous who educated man through the read." The writing styles used are thuluth and Kufic, illumination is associated with calligraphy.

Mehdi Moutashar, Variations on seven letters of the Arabic alphabet.
Silkscreen and collage, 1996. Portfolio containing seven double boards.
Arab World Institute (CA 96-1)

Moutashar Mehdi, born in 1943 in Hilla (Iraq), and studied in Baghdad and Paris, where he now teaches. Here the divine name al-Rahman is on a page and the letter Nun resumed at the next page. Each letter uses eight items from the cutting of a square. The artist cites the origin of this work "a world of mystical geometry" opened by the opening of Ibn 'Arabi (1165-1240).

Mohammed Dib, Rachid Koraïchi, Abdelkader Boumal,
L'enfant jazz. Alger, Mustapha Orif Gallery, Isma, 1998.
Lithographs. Private Collection.

In the above book, twenty-eight pages of calligraphy of the poem, "Jazz Baby," alternate with lithographs by Rachid Koraïchi, compartmentalized as images that evoke the North African collections of prayers and magic squares which held the divine names. The general shape is similar to  Tibetan books.




Adonis, poet; Ziad Dalloul, engraver. Kitab al-mudun
(The Book of cities). Poems translated from Arabic by
A. Minkowski and J. Wade Berque with the collaboration
of the author (2 booklets, 9 engravings, a watercolor).
Paris, UNESCO Publishing, The Dying, 1999.
BNF, Reserve of Rare Books.

The above book contains nine pieces on Paris, Sanaa, Beirut, Marrakech and Fez, Cairo, Damascus, Petra, New York and Granada, each accompanied by an engraving of a watercolor by Dalloul, and a silkscreen of a manuscript by Adonis, who, in 1982, wrote from Beirut for The Times.  Syrian artist and engraver Ziad Dalloul lives in France.

The voluptuousness of death.The tale of Ali b. Bakkar and Shams-Nahar.
Translated by Jamal Eddine Bencheikh.
Original serigraphs Nja Mahdaoui. Lyons, P. Mabboux, 1992.
BNF, Rare Book Reserve (Res. Atlas Y2-43).

The above, a tale from the Thousand and One Nights previously unpublished in French, tells in fourteen Nights of an impossible love between two young people. Illustrations by Tunisian artist Nja Mahdaoui punctuate the text movements of large black columns, similar to  Arabic letters but meaningless.

Hamid Tibouchi, Fountain, 1996. The book as sculpture,
here a  telephone directory worked in acrylic and vegetable dyes.
Private Collection

Etel Adnan, handwritten copy of a poem by Aliya Mamdouh,
watercolor. 1985. Arab World Institute (CA-86-74)

Born in 1925 in Beirut, Etel Adnan is also a poet and writer. Part of his work focuses on the plastic relationship between writing poetry and vision: to give a visual reading of poetry. As for the choice of Japanese book form, the artist emphasizes the unfolding, which requires the will of the viewer, brings into play the element of time and introduces rhythm and movement.

A salaam alekim! Or, as we of the only other surviving Semitic tribe on the face of the earth say shalom alechem.

All images courtesy of the Bibliothéque National France, with our thanks.

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