Art in the press

Calligraffiti: Lebanese Poet Sherbel Dagher

Asked Jordanian artist Wijdan to interpret his abstract verse visually. The result was a "Fantasia of colour and paper, on paper," and the subject of a spectacular exhibition at London's October Gallery.

A fascinating new exhibition opened in London in February celebrating both the talent of the Lebanese poet Sherbel Dagher and the artist he asked to visual interpretation of his abstract Princess Widjan All of Jordan.

Visitors to the opening of the exhibition, held at London's October Gallery, in the presence of the artist, were entranced by a selection of spectacular works which Wijdan believes "unites the legible value of letters and words with their optic and graphic abstract shapes, allowing me to ascertain my cultural persona as a contemporary Arab painter, within an international artistic framework."

"Poetry has always featured prominently in my culture," the artist explains. "Since before the advent of Islam it was the main form of artistic expression for the nomad Bedouins. The richness of their language enabled them to eloquently recite verses that suited all occasions ... When Sherbel Dagher asked me to interpret his work a new horizon opened up in front of me where words became a graphic part of the assembled composition constituted of watercolours and inks on various kinds of hand made paper. Eventually the words faded away and the paper became the main medium of the painting making up groupings that depict fantasy landscapes stretching beyond the tangible horizon."

In her latest series of 'calligraffiti' pieces illustrating the poems of Dagher, Wijdan weaves back together the parallel streams of poetry and calligraphy through which the essential genius of the Arab-speaking world devolves. Dagher writes in the modern idiom, using an elliptical style, which makes it necessary for the readert to supply a personal interpretation to the work in order to get the best from it. The visual interpretation of Wijdan adds another, entirely separate yet complimentary dimension to the work.

The variety of papers used, from Japanese washi, to paper from China, Thailand, Korea and India, allows for a vast range of effects to be experimented with.

The Japanese silk papers are transparent and sturdy, while the Chinese rice paper, once touched by water reduces to a treacherously delicate surface liable to rupture at the slightest touch. If the delicacy of the paper requires reinforcement then gold powder, gold inks and splashes of watercolour are deployed to lend support. As if overcome by these multi-coloured layerings the words themselves seem to fade into the paper itself and the medium becomes the governing message.

Calligraffiti Poems in Colour and paper is at the October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3AL until 27 March 2004
The Middle East; 3/1/2004; Lancaster, Pat, Copyright 2004 IC Publications Ltd