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House No. 24 in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood is Dar Al Khatt Al Arabi or the Arabic Calligraphy House. Quite similar to the traditional wind-tower houses in the Bastakiya neighbourhood, this too has a central courtyard surrounded by rooms. The ceiling has been covered by glass to contain the air conditioning inside, while letting the natural light pour into the courtyard and retaining the flavour of the original architecture of an open courtyard.
I'm greeted by Abdul Fattah who had been until now busy writing names of curious tourists in Arabic calligraphy on a large green slate board. Each name resembles an exquisite piece of jewellery and I waited for my name to be inscribed into similar art and learn more about it. Having left Egypt, Abdul Fattah joined the Dubai Municipality, starting his career writing street names and signboards. Soon he was transferred to the advertising department and he started writing special congratulatory and commemorative notes in calligraphy. Later, he started training children in Arabic calligraphy in the Public Library and also to the employees of Dubai Municipality. Now the Calligraphy House is a part of Dubai Culture and is involved in Shaikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding's effort in teaching the local heritage to people.
Is Calligraphy a dying art? Abdul Fattah disagrees. ''Calligraphy is definitely not dying and fortunately today it is embraced by artists and young students and has evolved as never before,'' says Fattah. ''Calligraphy is now considered an art form and a lot of people are interested in learning it. I learnt it from my father when I was young.
''Today, artists use computers to enhance Arabic calligraphy, but it is impossible. It is a very difficult art and requires a lot of aesthetics. Sometimes I write the word heart and draw it within a heart or take some quotes from Qur'an and draw them within a leaf. How can a computer ever do this?''
As we delve deeper into the subject, I learn that the word khatt refers to a line and calligraphy is the artistic rendition of handwriting. The instrument that is used for drawing is kalam or the pen and is generally made of reed or bamboo. Arabic calligraphy also known as Islamic calligraphy is derived from Persian calligraphy.
The drawing styles differ across the Middle Eastern countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and others. Among the styles that exist, the Sulus is the most difficult style where words are intertwined, compressed and drawn so intricately that they appear as combined or on top of the other.
Calligraphy started in Iraq with Kufic style being the oldest form of the Arabic script. It originated in the 7th century in the Iraqi region called Kufa and used to copy the Qur'an. Initially, it was a very rigid and angular style and later evolved into other patterns — floral, interlaced, plated and foliated. With the spread of Islam in the 14th century, calligraphy crossed the boundaries and even travelled to China.
The art is being taught in many schools in Dubai and the Arabic Calligraphy House has plans to organize regular classes.
Of all the projects that Fattah has done so far, the most memorable are the ones that he has created for different mosques. So what inspires the designs?
''Nature of course,'' says Fattah. ''People have lost interest in handwriting, especially in the age of computers. I hope they will continue to have the patience to learn this traditional art form. One has to teach history and culture to the younger generation and it is always nice to have modern elements coexisting together with traditional values.''
I can't but agree with Abdul Fattah as I cast a last glance around the 70-year old heritage building, the sunlight filtering through the glass ceiling onto a courtyard filled with rough sketches and half finished frames of stunning angular line sand dots that depict the designs.
Check out the little art paradise - Little Majlis
Source: Ishita Saha, Special to Property Weekly