God is the Light of Heaven and Earth 1987

Inspired by the Divine

Inspired by the Divine | By Nooraini Mydin | Sunday Mail | Weekend Extra | 2nd August 1992

I stumbled upon Ahmed Moustafa’s exhibition Artistry of the Arabic Script at the Royal College of Art in Kensington, Britain, on my way to the Proms Concert at the Albert Hall.

As a Muslim, when seeing something magnificent like the beauty of nature one feels small and humble as one becomes more aware of the presence and the greatness of God. That was how I felt. As his work is inspired by the word of God, the use of the cube bears a greater significance as it represents the Kaabah – the House of God.

Throughout his works, we came across cubes which deal with the different attributes of God like the first and the last, the manifest and the hidden, the one who gives and the one who takes away, the compassionate and the merciful, etc.

Many of the pieces are also woven into tapestries by Pinton Freres of Aubusson, France, which help to enhance the majesty of the creations. One of these is entitled Interior in the Exterior which features the Kaabah draped in black with a verse from Surat al Baqarah in gold on the surface.

Even though his works are all based on the Qu’rānic script, Ahmed’s treatment of the subject has given it universal appeal.

He is concerned that those who read Arabic will try to trace each sentence from beginning to end, thus missing the visual statement he’s trying to make.

There is really no problem of that happening because when you know the meaning of the verse he uses, it only serves to give the painting more meaning. It is like reading Wordworth’s famous poem and actually knowing what a field of golden daffodils actually looked like.

Such is the impact of his “revolutionary” style that viewers cannot miss the feel of Islam in each exhibit, be it the Muslim who can recall a particular significance of the verses from the surahs which Ahmed uses, or someone with a general awareness of Islam.

Even a non-Muslim can see that this artist is driven by a divine inspiration when he came to England in 1973 to further his studies. After having established himself in his field in Egypt, he was met with rejection by the Royal College of Art in London – only because he was too good.

In the words of the head of department: “If this is the standard you have achieved, why do you come for further studies in the same line as a painter?” It was at this point that Ahmed felt he had to underline his own culture.

Whilst enrolled on an advanced course in print-making at the Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design he came across a magazine article on the contribution of 9th-century master calligrapher, Ibn Muqla, to the development of the Arabic script.

Muqla’s theory of proportioned script was to dominate his work culminating in a PhD research entitled The Scientific Foundation of Arabic Letter-Shapes According to the Theory of the Proportioned Script by Ibn Muqla which he completed in 1989.

Ahmed’s work has been exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Islamic Cultural Centre, the Whitechapel Art Gallery and the Royal College of Art in London; the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; King’s College, Cambridge; the Grand Palais, Paris; the Plais des Congres, Montreus, Switzerland; the Musee Rath in Geneva; Al Ain University, UAE; and of course, in his native land, Egypt. The British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum and the Museum of Modern Arts and the Museum of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Alexandria, Egypt, are among the institutions which house his work.

Having come full circle to discover himself, he is concerned that people in the East are constantly looking towards the West for guidance when there is a wealth of manuscripts, antiquities, books and traditions in the Islamic culture.

Having come full circle to discover himself, he is concerned that people in the East are constantly looking towards the West for guidance when there is a wealth of manuscripts, antiquities, books and traditions in the Islamic culture.

“Unfortunately, not only most of the Third World countries, but most of the Islamic nations, are just standing there with their eyes open with a big smile and fascinated by everything that comes from the West.”

“It’s important to realise that it was inconceivable for me to do such a research in Egypt because I would have had a lot of doubts in my mind – about what the West is, about what the Western culture is all about.”

He added that there would be many things which couldn’t be answered unless he came to the West and make the decision while he was there.

Thus he feels it is his duty to take that experience to people who haven’t had the opportunity or were not fortunate enough to make such a direct comparison.

He has recently been offered Chairs in the University of Reading and the Central Saint Martin’s School of Art and Design in London.

His next major project is to write the Qu’rān in 30 volumes, a task that he anticipates will take six years. We can expect another major exhibition then.

In the meantime, Ahmed is keen to exhibit his work in the Far East. It will certainly be an experience not to be missed should the exhibition come to Malaysia.