In the Arabian Peninsula, fourteen centuries ago, a large village named Okaz situated near Mecca was known in the region as the rendezvous for jousting poets. Each year, these linguistically shrewd men would meet at a commercial and artistic fair where they would engage in a competition of elegance and poetic flare. It is reported that following these battles of wits, the victorious poems were embroidered onto textiles, which would then be suspended from the walls of the Kaaba; hence their name, Mu’allaqat, ‘suspended poems’.  It is said that several thousand poems have adorned the walls of the Kaaba but only seven poems remained on the sacred walls and it was these poems that gave classical Arabic some of its rules and structure. The Mu’allaqat are the story of anonymous men belonging to the proverbial tradition who thus influenced the future by simply, yet eloquently, retelling the events in their everyday lives. In the spirit of the proverbial tradition, my art retells my time and my social reality, and endeavours to influence the future.

A proverb is usually defined as a wise saying or message which can be universally understood. For me, there is nothing more malleable than a proverb, not in its formulation but rather in its meaning. It expresses the truth of an experience and these experiences are as varied as the human race. In light of this, I permit myself to interpret the proverbial tradition as an invitation to universal self-questioning and self-reflection. The messages I use not only create bridges between people who recognize themselves in a specific collective imaginary, but they also weave connections between the trivial reality from which they issue and different forms of metaphysical understandings.

The contemporary artist finds in his or her message the limits of their own language. Classical Arabic is my chosen contextual instrument since it is, in my opinion, one of the least discriminatory languages in current usage. Even those who do not read Arabic script can derive an idea of its meaning from the curves and forms of the words. It is this dual nature within calligraphy that attracted and inspired me. As I create my art, I write, and therefore I say and express in words, but at the same time, I draw, and therefore I say and express in images.

The aesthetic and the style of an artistic piece intervene in the transmission of a message and can be as influential as the title or the message itself. I would qualify my art pieces as proverbial in the sense that aesthetically they represent the deeper message put forward. Through this, I hope that the emotion is born within the viewer even before they venture to discover the meaning. In my artwork, the initial visual impression must give a clue to the meaning of the word or phrase and should awaken the curiosity of the spectator. I manipulate each letter with specific attention in order to amplify the message I try to convey.

Tradizione Proverbiale brings a litteral retrospective of all those humanist messages that have the humble pretention to open a dialogue between people, cultures and generations. Those messages are relevant to the place or the community where I installed my artwork but have this universal dimension, so anyone around the world can relate to it. Each art piece is telling the story of a human experience, where art became the pretext for a journey of discovery from New York to Paris, or from Cape Town to Mumbai.

Exhibition catalogue