In many ways we might regard Ahmed Moustafa and the work of his studio as an exemplary link between Islamic and European cultures. A conversation with him soon reveals the ways in which his practical training and experience as an artist and master scribe have been of crucial importance in informing his doctorate research into the scientific foundation of Arabic letter shapes. Underlying these activities is his strong Islamic belief that enables him to create images of the most intense complexity, which nevertheless can have an aesthetic and spiritual appeal to those with little understanding of their meaning. Yet the central core of his working life has taken place in Britain, something he feels has been essential to his own innovative developments.
Moustafa is positioned between Europe and the Middle East, between Greece and Africa, between Islam and Christianity. Indeed he would locate his activity on a line that stretches back as far as Pythagoras, and often makes wistful comparison between his status as an artist and that of those Italian Renaissance artists whose images were firmly based in a tradition of belief:
“Western art deals with the casual, rather than what I call the immutable essence. As Michelangelo said: good painting is nothing but a copy of the perfection of God.”
Working from his established studio on Creekside in Deptford, Moustafa and his team of highly skilled specialists pursue a range of projects that extend his own enquiry into, and experiments with, the Arabic letter shapes, which have led him on a 20-year journey encompassing mathematics, philosophy, and geometry. It is a laboratory as much as a studio, and Moustafa delights in describing himself as a ‘scientist of the arts’. His studio space offers the opportunity for testing and creating models of ideas and propositions, debate, contemplation and verification.
Moustafa combines painting and silkscreen skills to a highly sophisticated degree, whether he is working on canvas or paper. The reproductive use of silkscreen becomes secondary to its ability to apply a particular density and texture to the surface in the most controlled way. It is the contrast between this almost mechanistic finish and the more expressionistic use of the hand to create over and under-laying letter shapes that gives the finished work such energy.
In order to deliver commissions for public buildings in many parts of the world he has worked consistently with the Pinton studio in Felletin-Aubusson, France to weave tapestries based on his paintings; likewise a glass manufacturer in Germany to create stained glass panels for a school in Jeddah. More recently a close collaboration with an Italian company has produced a spectacular three-dimensional installation of Moustafa’s seminal painting, The Attributes of Divine Perfection.
Through every element of the studio’s output, however, there runs the single determination to communicate, make connections with people, open eyes and offer new ways of looking. The relationship between apparently differing cultures has been consistently developed in the work, which serves to exemplify ways in which future generations might draw from each other’s visual heritage. Moustafa has identified this as one of his central motives.