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Letters in Gold: The Art of Calligraphy, Aicha Hassan Coowar

Aicha Hassan Coowar is an Arabic Calligraphy Artist. Born and raised in Mauritius, this is where she started her career as an artist. At a very young age she was fascinated by art and mostly by Arabic Calligraphy. Her parents and four siblings always encouraged her to follow her dreams and practice what she loved the most. Her uncle who is a professional Arabic Calligrapher in Mauritius taught her this craft and provided her with her very first tools to practice it. It was a challenge at the beginning, but talent is not the only pre-requisite, so a lot of hard work went with it, which made her writing even better. That is why “Practice makes perfect” and “talent is nothing without hard-work” are her favourite proverbs.

How did you venture into the world of becoming a Calligraphist?

At a very young age I was always fascinated by art and wanted to create and contribute to the world around me in such a way. I used to love watching my eldest sister draw and create Roman calligraphy. In 2011 while visiting the Middle East for the first time, I was completely mesmerized by the beauty of Arabic Calligraphy in the museums, on buildings, in restaurants on plates and countless other places! While looking at it, I remember feeling a special connection. There was something intriguing for me to dive in and explore more.

After finishing my tertiary studies, I started taking Arabic calligraphy courses with my uncle to refine my skills. My first lesson was the letter “Alif” and while watching him write it slowly and carefully, I was convinced it was something straightforward, until I had a try at it myself and it was a different story! I understood at that very time, even though I believed I had an artistic hand, that Arabic calligraphy demanded a lot of practice and research. I decided to dedicate and immerse myself totally into it from that moment.

Subsequently, I created a Facebook page where I showcased my art to the world for the first time online. Every day I would write a verse of the Holy Quran to practice my lettering, and this helped a lot to understand my religion more and I couldn't be any happier. I knew at that point that this is what my heart always yearned to do; my art and work in direct correlation with my religion adding to this sense of purpose for me. With the invaluable support of my family, I started taking orders from clients and this is how my little business grew, Alhamdulillah.

Was it challenging to take up calligraphy as an art form despite Arabic not being your first language?

To be honest it wasn’t that challenging as Arabic was always one of my favorite languages even though I couldn't fully understand it. In Mauritius, we learn the Quran in Madrassahs and optionally, basic Arabic in lower grades. After my studies I enrolled in an Arabic course to be able to understand the language of the Quran better. All of this eventually increased my love of Arabic calligraphy and by the Grace of God, made me reach to where I am today.

You create wonders with sleek, modern style calligraphy combined with the traditional art of illumination. What inspired to take this approach to design?

In most of my paintings, as you can see, I work with gold leaves. In Dubai and Turkey, I was utterly inspired by the gold paintings that could be seen in places like the Islamic Art Museum, the old mosque, and the dome of breathtaking Hagia Sophia Mosque. The calligraphy and the gold touches are just so neat and mesmerizing! I fell in love with this technique.

The rich and beautiful history behind the paintings of some calligraphies from the Muslim empires amazed me. Since I am keen on minimalist art, using gold leaf in my work creates a more modern and unique piece of artwork and really draws the eye towards having a real appreciationfor what’s written.In the end, the beauty is and will always be in the message of God passed down our beloved Prophet.

What medium and tools do you use to create your work?

I work with different tools but one of my favorites is the traditional Bamboo pen – also known as Qalam, which is made of dried reed. It reminds me of how artists in the 19th century would create amazing works out of absolute simplicity. Other modern Arabic calligraphy pens that I use are the parallel pillot, practik pen but I tend to always end up with my Qalam.

I use different mediums depending on the work at hand, including acrylic paint, watercolor and oil paint. I like to work with different techniques such as the gold leaves, acrylic pouring, putting textures on my canvas, using modelling clay.

I work on different surfaces such as different types of canvas, papers, cushions and I also create digital art like in the picture below.

Do you have a favorite work that you have created?

Yes, and this artwork was for an international competition where I won first prize for it. I was blessed to be in the final and I had to create a unique masterpiece of Surah Al Qadr.

I have many ideas of new paintings that I will be creating in the future and can't wait to put them on the canvas and share it with the world!

Are there any artists who inspired your work? If yes, can you please tell us more about them?

There are many incredible artists all around the world that continuously inspire me in my work. I notice with much pleasure that nowadays many calligraphers are using their talent to define Islamic art.

If I have to name one artist, I would say Dia Allam. He is an amazing and creative Arabic calligrapher with a specialisation in 3-D calligraphy. His works are unique, and I admire his modern touch. I met him once in Dubai and I was able to watch him writing a masterpiece live and the result was mind blowing. His work shows the beauty of Arabic letters in different shapes and shows the vastness of possibilities you can do with just a few letters.

Nature also inspires me a lot in my works. Sitting outside, watching the blue sky and listening to birds bringsa lot of peacefulness and this is what I aim also to deliver through my work.

Have you do exhibition of your works?

Yes, while I was in Mauritius, I had numerous exhibitions and in the UK as well. I have had the pleasure of being invited to restaurants and charity events where I got to showcase my work and meet other great artists. I have also been to an event organized in a converted mosque where my calligraphy was showcased, and I had to opportunity to meet different people and talk to them about my work which was very fulfilling.

Exhibitions are one of my favorite places as an artist as it allows me to meet other incredible international artists and share our different experiences and knowledge on our craft, and also share stories about our lives, challenges, and success stories.

What do you feel about your connection to calligraphy as an Islamic Art, and its future?

Being an Arabic calligrapher is not only a hobby or my full-time job but first and foremost, it is one of the greatest gifts from Allah. So far Calligraphy has helped a lot in my religion and in my creativity. It is an art deeply rooted in ancient history and an evolving art, so there is a lot of research to do and there is always something new to learn. Calligraphy is a testament that the word of God never fades away and for me it’s very fulfilling and important to keep this art alive through my work.

Youngsters seem to be more in interested in Islamic calligraphy nowadays be it as a hobby or for gifting. I strongly believe it is a good way to attract the youth to the words of God. There is still room for improvement however, in terms of the recognition and promotion of this great art. I would encourage anyone who wants to learn not to feel shy and get in touch with artists and research online about it as there is so much content available now for free. It is worth giving it a try.

Also since the new generation is now working from home mostly I imagine they have more free time to practice a craft in their free time and discover something new that could add a bit of sparkle to their lives, and why not try out for themselves with a bit of gold leaf to hand!

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The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.


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