Five large-scale installations celebrating the art form of calligraphy have been unveiled at Dubai Design District (d3), a global creative hub and member of TECOM Group PJSC, making up part of the inaugural Dubai Calligraphy Biennale organised by Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai.
As one of the 35+ locations across Dubai to partake in the inaugural Biennale, d3 sees four works by the renowned Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej and an immersive installation by Nigerian-American artist Victor Ekpuk unveiled for the public to see and engage with. The works of art will be on display there until 31 October 2023. d3 also sees the launch of workshops on calligraphy, open to all, and three exhibitions covering the themes of Connecting Cultures, Posters: Visual Language, and Transcending Calligraphy.
The collaboration between d3 and the Dubai Calligraphy Biennale, an initiative by Dubai Culture to mark the significant milestone of 10 successful editions of the Dubai International Arabic Calligraphy Exhibition, aims to highlight the importance and diversity of calligraphy as an artistic expression, promote calligraphic artists, preserve and celebrate the classical medium and reinforce Dubai’s status as a UNESCO Creative City of Design. The installations add to a collection of iconic public artwork at the design community spearheading Dubai’s creative economy.
Khadija Al Bastaki, Senior Vice President of Dubai Design District, part of TECOM PJSC said: “Dubai is safeguarding Arab traditions and identity by nurturing its creative economy. Centuries-old traditions such as calligraphy are adapting to modern tastes and global audiences, with brilliant artists inviting more people to appreciate and celebrate the craftsmanship it requires.
“The Dubai Calligraphy Biennale reflects the spirit of inclusivity, diversity and collaboration integral to d3’s global creative community. We cannot imagine a better location to celebrate masterful pieces of work by Mattar Bin Lahej and Victor Ekpul than our district, reinforcing our efforts to cement Dubai’s status as a UNESCO Creative City of Design.”
Fatma Al Qurashi, Dubai Calligraphy Biennale Project Manager and Curator of the Connecting Cultures and Posters: Visual Language exhibitions at d3, said: “We are delighted to introduce this remarkable assembly to the public for the very first time. The significance of calligraphy within the Arabic language and its cultural heritage cannot be overstated; it has been with us with every major step of modern history. Calligraphic expression in other languages is being brought to the fore here too in a way that demonstrates how it takes form across the world. By curating the exhibitions, workshops, activities, and more in calligraphy and other disciplines, Dubai Culture is fulfilling the imperative to position this art form at the vanguard of cultural expression in our region. We are committed to positioning Dubai as a global centre for culture, an incubator for creativity and a thriving hub for talent, and this is another step exhibiting that.”
Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej, the mastermind behind the calligraphy wrapping around Dubai’s Museum of the Future, has created four eye-catching steel structures for the biennale spread across the Core Block area at d3. His piece The Quranic Encyclopaedia is a 15m-long sculpture depicting monotheism in scriptural excerpts while symbolizing energy, motion, and the boundless universe through celestial rings and circles. It offers a philosophical visual perspective on cosmic concepts. Equally massive and eye-catching is the artist’s Emission of Language, which symbolises spiritual characters in harmony, flowing like water, while representing Arabic language's richness
Fusion signifies unity in diversity, with Surah Al-Ikhlas depicted as an integrated hollow circle, emphasizing spiritual and cultural harmony and his fourth work, Galaxy, is a vast, interconnected series of sculptures that unites individual talents, echoing the cosmic narrative of human existence.
Renowned Nigerian-American artist Victor Ekpuk, making his Middle East debut with an exhibition of new works open until 21 November at Dubai’s Efie Gallery, has crafted an immersive public art masterpiece, inviting visitors into a vibrant calligraphic world. Named Passage to Promise, this installation spans 6m in width and 4m in height. It extends Ekpuk's deep exploration of Nsibidi, an ancient written communication system from southern Nigeria and northwest Cameroon southwestern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon, interwoven with his original symbols. The installation promises a unique and profound experience that will leave a lasting impact on all attendees.
Ekpuk’s three-decades-long career has earned him significant prestige globally. His work has been featured in exhibitions at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Art.
Speaking about the opportunity, Victor Ekpuk said: “My art is a tribute to the power of dialogue, it extends an invitation to engage with our shared collective human experiences. Inspired by nsibidi, a graphic system in Africa, the intricate tapestries of Middle Eastern heritage, as well as the global contemporary art, I have developed a unique vocabulary-a style of abstraction which draws from these aesthetics concepts, resulting in a visual symphony with elements of familiarity. Through this exchange of interwoven textures and cultural references, my artwork is an intertext of a cultural narrative composed of visual symbols, histories, and stories that transcend time and place.”
The biennale will also see a series of themed workshops organised by thejamjar take place at the Atrium in Building 5 at d3:
- 90s Arab Nostalgia: This two-hour workshop introduces artists to how words help sell and promote information and products in the world of advertising. The public can sign up to create vibrant pop art graphics using experimental mixed media work with English and Arabic block letters and imagery.
- Ebru Calligraphy Art: Discover the tradition of Ebru, the customary Turkish art of creating colourful, marble-like patterns. Participants will fashion their own designs before learning the tools and techniques of Arabic calligraphy to uplift the canvas.
- Islamic Tiles x Art of Calligraphy Tiles: Attendees can construct personalised calligraphic tiles during this two-hour session using the traditional Kufi script under the guidance of Sheikha Alserkal.
- Letters in Silver by Azza Al Qubaisi: An opportunity to assemble a silver calligraphic pendant during a three-hour masterclass with Azza Al Qubaisi. The workshop will teach the ancient art of cast-making using cuttlebone and allow participants to pour molten metal to create a necklace to take home.
- Tell a Story Through a Ring by Noura Alserkal: In this four-hour metal working masterclass, UAE-based artist Noura Alserkal will walk participants through shaping a silver ring with embossed calligraphy for a personal touch.
- Pendant Writing by Noura Alserkal: Over four hours, this masterclass will teach participants basic silversmith techniques, including hammering and soldering, enabling the crafting of a personalised pendant featuring a handwritten name.
- Geoboard Art by Medaf: An opportunity to learn about creating geoboard art – the tradition of creating images and words using a lattice of pegs joined by rubber bands or threads. This insightful session with Medaf Creative Studio + Art Spaces will invite participants to make their own calligraphic board in just two hours.
- Soap in Letters by Lablicious: A workshop teaching soap melting and pouring to create calligraphic soaps, customised with scents, colours and additives, like herbs or exfoliants.
All the workshops are open to the public, but spaces are limited. For the full schedule and details, and to register attendance, visit here.
An exhibition entitled Connecting Cultures also debuts in Atrium 6 at d3. This significant exhibition aims to nurture creative cultural dialogues and highlight the significance of international artistic talent. It celebrates the rich diversity of calligraphy art from around the world while also highlighting innovative and contemporary approaches and offers an exceptional opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty and intricacy of diverse scripts and cultural expressions. In addition, d3-based Khawla Art Gallery presents an exhibition entitled Transcending Calligraphy, curated by Rayanne Hakki and including works by remarkable artists Bahman Panahi and Rachid Koraichi. Together, they offer a fresh perspective on calligraphy by delving into its origins and tracing its evolution into novel forms.
Posters: Visual Language is an additional immersive exhibition that delves into the captivating world of poster art, showcasing pieces from global artists who skilfully blend text and visuals to tell compelling stories. These posters serve as bridges between written language and visual storytelling, encapsulating fragments of history, culture, and emotions.
Frame Cafe at d3 is participating by offering a special t-shirt drop of the work of artist B.eautiful, a dynamic initiative based in Los Angeles co-run by Shun Kinoshita that showcases lesser-known Japanese creatives across diverse fields. Their apparel line features unique designs from a spectrum of Japanese artists, including the word "貴い" (meaning "precious" or "valuable") in this latest collaboration. The aesthetic is simple and clean, representing the unexplored brilliance of Japan's creative scene.
The inaugural Dubai Calligraphy Biennale celebrates calligraphy with works by more than 200 creatives in five languages across 35+ locations in Dubai. The event highlights modern and traditional calligraphy, public art, mixed media, typography, and product design, along with ornamentation, to showcase the current and contemporary applications of calligraphy arts. It aims to bridge tradition and innovation, preserving classic art forms and the Arabic language while introducing new languages into the narrative. Additionally, it seeks to elevate global calligraphic talent.
This edition is supported by Al Rostamani Group (Lead Supporter) and Sandooq Al Watan (Supporter), and is being held in partnership with a variety of entities in the local cultural scene, including: Dubai Design District (D3), The Cultural and Scientific Association, Mohammed bin Rashid Library, Expo City Dubai, DIFC Gate Avenue, Museum of the Future, Sultan Bin Ali Al Owais Cultural Foundation, Juma Al-Majid Center, Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism, Dubai Media Office, Dubai Municipality, Alserkal Avenue, Art Dubai, Women’s Museum, Tashkeel, Art Jameel, Mattar Bin Lahej Gallery, Boccara Gallery, Foundry, Khawla Art Gallery, Firetti Gallery, Efie Gallery, BEDU, AWC Gallery, Hobb Bookstore, Opera Gallery, Mondoir Art Gallery, thejamjar, Medaf, Mirzam, Kalimat, Slay Café, Frame Café, 3IXAM, Huawei, and Level Shoes.
Dubai Design District (d3) is part of TECOM Group’s business district portfolio, including Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, Dubai Studio City, Dubai Production City, Dubai Knowledge Park, Dubai International Academic City, Dubai Science Park and Dubai Industrial City.