Tuesday, December 08, 2009 By Maryam
Posted on 07 December 2009 by Sailanmuslim
For the uninitiated, the flowing of lines and seemingly idiosyncratic spattering of dots and dashes that characterize the Arabic script can appear an inscrutable enigma. That it is a cursive system with few clues as to exactly where discrete elements find their borders only adds to the puzzle. Without an overly onerous measure of study however, the mystery is breached and the tangled jungle of vines gives up its fruit, and its secrets, that the right to left procession of ascending peaks and receding troughs is regular, logical, and rigidly ruled. When one learns how to tease apart the sound sequences encoded in the script, meaning emerges, but the cracking of the code is bittersweet; what was once tantalizingly obscure devolves into the simply mundane–written words doing what they do–mere signs signifying something out there in the world, but what thing and which world? Even as the first great mystery fades, another comes into being: that ineffable quality in the arrangement and execution of these sound symbols that is more than the sum of its parts and the source of its captivating beauty.
Of all the so-called Islamic arts, al-khatt (or trace ) holds a privileged position. Combining function with perfect form, the hyper-stylized and fantastically ornate expressions retain a suppleness and a subtlety unmatched in other cultures. They are at once stirring and deeply soothing. Adapt scribes, whose masterworks can be seen adorning mosques and monuments, ancient coins and illuminated manuscripts, take the written words and weave them together not quite as poets do–into a tapestry of ideas and imagery that flood the mind–but rather into a blank canvas upon which one cannot anticipate what might emerge. The effect is a paradox. The work is in its nature one of arabesque (generally of highly spiritual matters), the form in which it is rendered allays the impulse to simply read–beginning at the beginning and ending at the end–one finds himself instead caught up in the unbounded net of loops and hooks, eyes wandering forward and backward over the field, infinitely fine in its detail, distinct, atomic; yet revealing the harmony and symmetry of the whole at a further remove. This tidal shifting of perspective transforms consciousness, offering a glimpse into what lies beneath and beyond our senses.