Mapping The Unseen At St Mungo Museum of Religious Life & Art

By Claire Cranston | 12 January 2004
Shows a painting of three horses overlaid with turquoise calligraphy.

Photo: Trilogy of the Arab Horses, 1980 by Ahmed Moustafa © the artist.

Claire Cranston went to Glasgow to catch up with a touring exhibition of works by Islamic artist, Ahmed Moustafa.

Mapping the Unseen is a touring exhibition of works by Islamic artist Ahmed Moustafa, organised by the University of Hertfordshire Galleries, currently on show at St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow until April 18.

The calligraphy-based artworks of this internationally renowned Muslim artist are breathtaking. He draws inspiration from the calligraphic scripts of the Muslim world including Baghdad, Cairo and Istanbul to create stunning works, which communicate Arabic scripts in a unique visual form.

Moustafa’s works bring together classical European painting methods and the calligraphy and geometry-based works of Islamic art.

Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1943, Dr. Ahmed Moustafa is a painter, artist and scholar of international repute. For years his art has been celebrated all over the globe.

He is a modern practitioner of an ancient tradition - Arabic calligraphy. For Muslims, it is a sacred art - this was the language in which God spoke to the Prophet.

Moustafa uses this cultural tradition in his search to offer a glimpse, in artistic form, of the indescribably and the inexpressibly sacred.

Shows a painting with concentric squares in white, black and yellow. The painting is made up of calligraphic script.

Photo: The Orbits of Praise, 2002 by Ahmed Moustafa © the artist.

In 1997, in recognition of his international reputation in the field of Islamic art, Her Majesty the Queen presented a specially commissioned composition entitled Where the Two Oceans Meet as a gift to the nation of Pakistan to mark their fiftieth anniversary.

This masterpiece of multi-layered Islamic calligraphy is the artist’s own interpretation of Surah 5:1 verses 9-21 in the Qur’an which says,

"He has given freedom to the two great bodies of water so that they might meet, [yet] between them is a barrier that they may not transgress. Which, then, of your Sustainer’s powers can you disavow?"

These verses speak of the power of God over the oceans and therefore over humanity.

Dr Moustafa’s wife Catherine explained to me that Where the Two Oceans Meet is the in-between, it is the imaginary celestial dream world where we all are, known as Barzakh; "…salt and river meet but don’t mingle…" said Catherine.

A multicoloured painting with a design in Muslim calligraphy.

Photo: Expending in God's Cause, 1995 by Ahmed Moustafa © the artist.

Moustafa, taking his inspiration from the texts of the Holy Qur’an, has created an astonishingly rich visual vocabulary through an innovative fusion of his skills as a painter and as a master scribe in the tradition of Islamic penmanship.

Notably, Frolicking Horses 1993 is a remarkable piece inspired by classical descriptions of the legendary Arab horses. Based on carefully selected verses of the prehistoric Arab poet Umro ’Al Quaise, this is a particularly striking piece that could keep you enthralled all day.

While Ahmed Moustafa's inspiration is Arabic script, his work also shows modern European influences. He has spent half a century refining the techniques he uses in his dramatic geometric paintings and tapestries.

Speaking at the exhibition, Ahmed Moustafa said he was moved to see his work on display at the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art. He said that in his work he is looking for a universal language - regardless of faith, colour or frontiers.

This distinctive collection presents many beautiful and thought-provoking works which leave you contemplating the world around you.

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