This exhibition is about three generations of artists from Iran and the Arab world, from the early pioneers of a vernacular Lettrism movement in the 1960s till now. These artists, from different backgrounds and possessing diverse styles, take inspiration from their own culture; they use the morphology of letters and phonemes, the rhymes and rhythms of calligraphy, abstracting words and numbers into pictures and thoughts into images.

Inspired by the book Signs of Our Times: From Calligraphy to Calligraffiti (2016), the exhibition includes artists whose concerns, whether conceptual, socio-political or simply aesthetic, have made a distinctive contribution to world art.


Ali Omar Ermes, La’, The Positive No, mixed media on paper, 30X36 cm, 1989, © Rose Issa Projects


From the thirty-seven artists represented here, only a very few are traditional calligraphers. The exhibition is a glimpse into a variety of contemporary art approaches using Persian and Arabic scripts, while introducing the work of some younger-generation women artists. You can notice several instances of La’ (No) as to NO to injustice and double standards; or the word Salam (Peace), made of swords.


Mahmoud Obaidi, Salam, From The “Confusionism” Series, Steel and Wood, 230 x 73 x 3 Cm, 2013, © Rose Issa Projects


Using richly varied vocabularies of art, whether paintings, sculptures, ceramics, or creating ‘artist books’, they offer a fresh perspective on the creativity that the region has inspired.


Joumana Medelj, The Book of The Moon, Watercolour on Paper, 5 x 11 x 2.5 Cm (Page Size), Approx. 50 X 50 Cm (Open), 2018, © Rose Issa Projects


For historical references, selected manuscripts from the treasures of the Special Collections of the SOAS Library – from 9th-century Kufic parchments to 16th-century Safavid poetry or 18th-century specimens of calligraphic Mashq were incorporated in a concertina book. These precious items from the past are now in dialogue with the contemporary works in this exhibition.


Maliheh Afnan, Contained Thoughts, Nine Works, Mixed Media on Paper Various Sizes, 21-39 Cm High, 10 Cm Diameter, 2000, © Rose Issa Projects


Participating Artists
Etel Adnan
Maliheh Afnan
Farhad Ahrarnia
Siah Armajani
Nasser al Aswadi
Manal al Dowayan
Halim al Karim
Shakir Hassan al Said
Mouneer al Shaarani
Chant Avedissian
Said Baalbaki
Mahmoud Bakhshi
Jacqueline Béjani
Khaled Ben Slimane
Kamal Boullata
Hanieh Delecroix
Jumana el Husseini
Mohammad Ehsaey
Ali Omar Ermes
Parastou Forouhar
Bita Ghezelayagh
Fathi Hassan
Susan Hefuna
Farnaz Jahanbin
Christine Khondjie
Rachid Koraichi
Nja Mahdaoui
Hassan Massoudy
Joumana Medlej
Farhad Moshiri
Ahmed Moustafa
Enayatollah Nouri
Mahmoud Obaidi
Mehdi Qotbi
Nayla Romanos Iliya
Katayoun Rouhi
Walid Siti
Hossein Valamanesh

Hossein Valamanesh, This Will Also Pass I Puisque Tout Passe, Bronze, 70 Cm, 2012, © Rose Issa Projects


An illustrated catalogue, co-edited by Bob Annibale and Rose Issa, accompanies the exhibition. Special thanks to the artists and the collectors for lending the works.


Rachid Koraichi, Untitled, mixed media on paper, 110×220 cm, 1981, © Rose Issa Projects


The Future of Traditions
Writing Pictures: Contemporary Art from the Middle East

Location: Brunei Gallery, SOAS, University of London,
Duration: 12 January–25 March





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