Challenging Traditional Arabic Calligraphy, Ghaleb Hawila

Lebanese Arabic Calligraphy Artist Ghaleb Hawila, is fascinated by the endless possibilities of Arabic calligraphy which he seeks to approach it with a new eye. Ghaleb’s work comes from a deep understanding of Middle-Eastern heritage, spiritual paths, and continuous search for origin, cause and effect.


We talk to Ghaleb about challenging the norms of traditional Arabic and the emotions and concepts behind his work.



Can you tell us a bit about your childhood and your journey to becoming an artist?


It wasn’t clear, nor was it easy to prove myself in my society despite the early recognized talent from my childhood. So I fought my way out to make everyone believe in me, it’s an existential statement for me not only art, and I believe you can feel that in my work. Talking about war, I grew up between a traumatized generation of old wars in south Lebanon, till I witnessed many myself, lost my home, and understood the game better.



Your work actively challenges the norms of traditional Arabic calligraphy and turns it into extraordinary pieces of art. Can you tell us more about your vision and process?


As Previously said, I make war and statements in my work. I’m also not interested in anything ever done before, so I’m always driven by excellence and breaking my limits. Also fascinated by that which is not experimented yet, the potential. Yet you can notice my deep appreciation for classic calligraphy and masters, something that is growing each day. In a nutshell, my work is the thin line in the yin yang of Taoism, or it’s TOO HALAL FOR HARAM PEOPLE AND TOO HARAM FOR HALAL PEOPLE.



Whilst studying graphic design you came across a gap in typography, how did this influence your career?


Your question took me back to 2013. True that I found a big gap, and took it very seriously and personally. I also got addicted to practicing calligraphy and by no time I was known in Lebanon (the creative hub of design agencies) for my skills and was able to collaborate with acclaimed agencies on big projects along with well known talents. And this served me well since I couldn’t/didn’t work in any agency/company in my life. It all felt right. From a marketing and entrepreneurial point of view, It worked perfectly. And with years I've been educating myself even more and looking for more gaps that I can work on consistently.



Classical in essence, you manageto inject your own signature into each art piece. How did you create a unique recognizable style?


I believe the answer is very simple. By being true to myself and to each project/situation.


Does your audience need to understand Arabic when they view your work?


Yes and no. No, because I make sure to explain the concept and reasoning behind each work (which is debatable by artists/art) so people can understand the essence. Which can be understood in different forms and languages. And yes, because understanding Arabic language and/or calligraphy can give you an extra crisp depth to the understanding of my work. As if you’re admiring a song when you’re a musician.



What emotions do you hope your work conveys and what impact do you hope it has on the viewer?


Ideally to evoke emotions and thoughts. This is the first accomplishment for true art. Then the second layer would be depending on the piece or collection, as each artwork or collection tackles a different concept or idea. After all, going back to the essence, it’s to connect us on a human level beyond anything else.



Can you describe your creative process, and give us some insight into what goes through your head, from concept to creation?


First thing comes to mind for each and every new project: What opportunity is this project giving me to learn and experiment on. It has to be something new, there is no way i’m repeating an artwork twice, I call this wasting time and POTENTIAL. Then I start my research on the topic and connect the dots, then start sketching. Ideally I’m 90% satisfied when the project/concept/my vision are aligned and connected in a way which influences the sketch that has to have a new technique to master. The outcome is never as satisfying as what you have in mind, yet it can be very charming by it’s own way. And I usually have multiple (at least 3) projects working on simultaneously. (maybe to avoid the grieving of a good bye)



Can you tell us more about your work Nuqta?


Nuqta is the essence. It’s the simplest form and the building block of what we know as Arabic calligraphy. In 2028, I was invited to participate in the Sharjah Calligraphy Biennale, (a major eye opening experience and event in my artistic life) so I’m again thinking how to break my limits of whatever I did before and began my research. Also in a way things were aligning so beautifully. In a nutshell, Nuqta is a collection that has 4 points, The Creator, The human, Elements of life, and the 14 Soura openings. All done with only dots. The Allah installation weighs around 800KG, made out of wood, cotton threads and a steel frame. The Nuqta has 4 dots, and Allah has 4 letters in Arabic, repeated 4 times on the 4 sides of the cube. I then exhibited the series in Beirut, February 2020 at the French institution, while the revolution was happening.



Which is you most favourite work you have created to date?


Nuqta is definitely a special one that has a lot of potential and can be expanded further in the future. However my latest exhibition “Contemporary Scars” exhibited in Dubai October 2021 with K-Gallery was a very humbling experience on a human level. And I’m not only talking about the outcome here, I’m talking about the journey of Opening the scars and the healing process.


How has your creative vision and art influenced Arabic typography more widely?


I have no track or record of any designer/friend who showed me a typographic poster influenced by my work. I’ve visited a number of universities and given multiple talks, also my work is online and people can see it and this is why I try my best to explain, so I do hope that my work is influencing the designers in any way. Just like how I got influenced by many amazing artists and designers out there.



Are any of your calligraphy works inspired specifically by the Islamic art tradition?


Back in 2018 I believe I was trying to merge Islamic geometric patterns with my work. One of the remarkable ones got exhibited at the Urban art Biennale in Germany and then owned by a dear friend. However, I will definitely go back there and see how I can stretch that even further with more experience now and advanced technologies. Also in 2019, at “im/permeable feeling(s)” exhibition with FLBN in Beirut, part of the collection was merging the Arabic calligraphy “tradition” (and not classic rules) with the silkscreen process.



What are your thoughts on the future of Arabic calligraphy and Islamic art, do you think it has a place in mainstream spaces? From my humble understanding, and from what I learned from “history of art” class, islam used to build mosques in different part of the world depending on the culture to not look alien and a way of adapting, which is brilliant and remarkable. And what you’re doing now in your platform is exactly that, adapting with the new word and generation. Also with the new technologies and lifestyles in our hands I believe we can rise all together to a better life on all levels of diversity.

That being said, I see more people practicing the art of Arabic calligraphy as a spiritual hobby soon, people will be more cultured about it. And designers and street artists of the region have no excuse but to know at least the basics of it. And that will change the game drastically. Bless you and we are all nothing but a continuation of human excellence in this temporary life cycle.


For more information follow Ghaleb Hawila on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/g.hawila/?hl=en


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