Majid Alyousef is a Saudi calligrapher, typographer and contemporary artist based in Dubai. His works have been shown in galleries and institutions around the globe including the Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial and Dubai’s Street Art Gallery.
We were able to catch up with the award-winning art and design veteran and talk about his innovative approach to creativity, typography and Arabic calligraphy.
Mondrian Love, Majid Alyousef
You have a very unique style, merging traditional Arabic calligraphy with contemporary visual arts. What artforms do you draw upon outside of the calligraphy world?
Thank you very much, mainly from architecture and abstract painting/sculpture, specially cubism, futurism and de stijl. The anatomy and structural qualities of Arabic letters make them rich elements for abstract compositions. The combination though is unique and creates a new realm of artistic possibilities.
Hyperbolic, Majid Alyousef
Your work pushes boundaries, turning Arabic letters into an abstract language that communicates with everyone, even those who don’t speak Arabic. How have you created a universal connection to the artform?
This was from some notes and readings in the field of classical aesthetics and neuroaesthetics, the debatable notion that there could be universal triggers for beauty and the human brain has a component that can recognize these triggers on a basic level. Simple shapes and forms that seem visually pleasing even if there is no direct meaning or connection to them that we can recognize right away.
I thought that the beauty we see as practitioners of Calligraphy some people miss and by going out of the main function of calligraphy which is making nice looking legible text, into dealing with the letter forms as aesthetical triggers, just as a pure form. Then using that to compose different scenarios without losing the original form of the letters.
As we learn calligraphy, we practice regularly to achieve specific shapes and structure or what is commonly known as "calligraphy rules" and because of the complex nature of Arabic letters and connection these rules made Arabic specifically a very difficult and challenging form of art/craft to master, and it's actually difficult for the public, even Arabic speakers, to see those tiny intricate details that Arabic calligraphy has, so I was trying to deconstruct and enlarge those details and make them prominent players of the artwork.
Waves of Victory, Majid Alyousef
When you were starting out as an artist, what piece of advice do you wish you could have had?
It would be about networking in the artworld, I used to work hard on getting artistic skills. It was almost taking all of my time, so later, I had to work more on getting into the art community. Social media and the internet in general though helped a lot recently.
Wealth Knowledge, Majid Alyousef
Your art has been featured in various exhibitions, galleries and institutions around the globe. You have also undertaken commercial collaborations, raising the profile of Arabic typography. What has been your most memorable experience to date?
I think that would be the work that was featured on Nasdaq screen in Times Square, NYC. It was to celebrate the Arabic Language day and it was the first time Arabic calligraphy was displayed in that way. The second one was the work on the wall art piece for the Room of the Emirates in the UN building in Geneva. It was also the first time I applied my new abstraction style which is seen as a radical presentation of calligraphy in an actual project.
You co-founded Calligraforms, can you explain what it is?
It is a concept that presents calligraphy from a different perspective. calligraphy is turned into visual abstractions, going beyond its original function. So, new shapes and relations are explored that were not possible in traditional approach to calligraphy, while the quality of the letterform, which was developed over the centuries, is maintained and prominent with its classical aesthetics values.
It could be applied to different forms of art like sculpture and motion graphics. It can also be made with different media and tools. It is different from the older movement called Hurufiyah in which an impression of calligraphy is used to create abstract paintings, for example in calligraphorms, the whole structure of calligraphy is investigated and analyzed then presented as a subject by itself.
Bismillah, Majid Alyousef
What are your thoughts on the future of Arabic calligraphy and Islamic art, how can we work towards its development?
It is difficult to predict, I think if the goal is to develop it then the first step is education and assigning the right people to work on designing teaching programs and cultural events that communicate properly to the public.
Unfortunately sometimes the problem comes from art and media institutions that think they serve the development of calligraphy and Islamic art in general but they don't have the proper capability to do so, and they don't know that, but yet they have the power and reach. So that is the most harmful thing because it creates misleading assumptions and in many cases celebrates mediocrity while the Islamic arts are based on mastery.
Find out more about Majid Alyousef here: https://majidalyousef.net
The views of the interviewees who are featured in Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.