Currently showing at the Picasso gallery in Zamalek is a calligraphy exhibition by artist Khodeir El-Borsaiedy. Calligraphy is a tricky form of art, since for the average layman, it may not be considered ‘art’ per say. People usually take for granted the effort required to properly transcript everything from the Quran and store signs to election posters.
Having said that, it must be stressed that there aren’t a lot of properly transcribed signs or images in Cairo. So upon entering Picasso Gallery, the first impression can be one of recognition: the work has been seen before. However, with a more intent look, one can see that El-Borsaiedy’s work strays from the herd.
The pieces range from the traditional Naskh script, along with a few variations on Kufi, to more modern takes on calligraphy. The former more traditional pieces are rife with details. The calligraphy itself is very well executed, showing the artist to be an excellent calligraphist. However the beauty of the calligraphy lies not in their messages — which range from Quranic verses to poetry — but in the decorative designs in the framing of the pieces. Predominantly in gold, but also using a vibrant range of colors and floral designs, the motifs used for decoration are exquisite in their intricacy.
The designs of the script itself are quite interesting, but not out of the ordinary. A Quranic verse containing the word “Al-Mizaan” (a balance) is literally translated into the image of a balance, and despite looking regal with a small motif separating the two ends of the balance, it’s not particularly original.
In the work’s defence, however, most of the pieces in the Naskh style don’t hold much room for originality in composition, since their excellence lies in the actual craft of calligraphy and its decorative motifs rather than its composition.
The same cannot be said for the more modern works by El-Borsaiedy. Although their looks are attractive in their details, the overall compositions aren’t arresting. Due to the overkill in the artist’s usage of colors, the pieces don’t exude the sensibilities of the more traditional works. A handful of the works have a loud combination of colors, ranging from pinks to yellows to bright blues and reds, which take away from the calligraphy and make the entire piece hard to read.
The latter point is what makes calligraphy a difficult art form: it treads a very thin line between fine and applied arts. It has all the characteristics of a painting or a drawing in terms of color, composition and subject matter, yet it is functional in the sense that because its made to be read, it must be readable. The more modern pieces in this exhibition are not quite so — they show off the artist’s ability to twist words into shape and write at a painfully minute size. Some of those are impressive at a close range, but otherwise quite crowded both in terms of composition and color.
My personal favorite piece is composed of a large white background, with a small frame in its lower half. Inside the frame is one single large word, cropped around the edges as though it had to be fit into its frame. The word is “Kafa” (enough), and its meaning is so profound and strong in spite of the compactness its three-letter size that appears in the frame. The composition is excellent, resembling a logo, but stopping short of being too corporate. It has a punch that is clear and recognizable (with the colors of the Egyptian flag: black, white and red), and the composition itself alludes to the spirit of the Jan. 25 revolution.
It appears as though the word has been cut short, as if there’s no need for it anymore, and a small tick is placed where the last letter should’ve been completed. It is the only composition that isn’t too obvious, speaking volumes with the simplest of lines.
Overall, the quality of the work on display is satisfactory, with a few pieces standing out more than others. Khodier El-Borsaiedy has quite the skill set as a calligraphist. Hopefully he will continue to hone his craft to create more exciting composition.