Calligraphy plays an important role in the Islamic and Arabic culture and heritage. The Sharjah Calligraphy Museum in the UAE is the only museum throughout the Arab world devoted in its entirety to calligraphy.
The importance of calligraphy in the Arab world is based on Islam. According to the Islamic faith, God can’t be depicted, but his name can be written. That put a lot of weight on the letter and its beauty.
Skimming through any history book that covers Islamic civilization, it is almost inevitable to come across a part that includes calligraphy. Beautiful writing, as the word calligraphy means according to its Greek origins, is a highly valued form of art in many cultures around the globe and especially in the Arab world.
Located in the heart of Sharjah’s heritage area, the Sharjah Calligraphy Museum occupies the renovated house of sons of Hamad Al-Midfaa. The museum consists of one big hall and another smaller one. The big hall comes with arches and columns and a semi-glass ceiling that allows natural light to come through and keep the hall well lit during the day. On three sides of the square shaped hall there are calligraphy scripts on display. They are mostly classical pieces, written on paper, depicting verses from the Qur’an. The fourth side of the hall is dedicated to books that cover calligraphy and its role in Arab history and culture.
The center of the hall, right underneath the semi-glass ceiling, displays calligraphy work in a unique way. Dangling from the ceiling are wooden writing tablets on which calligraphy work has been scripted in an old style. These wooden writing tablets are called Allouha. Traditionally, this was how Muslim children learnt the Qur’an in West Africa.
The smaller hall is dedicated to more contemporary samples of calligraphy art. On display is the work of famous calligraphers from across the Arab world, including the Sudanese Haider Idries and Moroccans Hakim Al-Ghazali and Abdulla Al-Hariri. The creative artists have traded the more traditional medium of paper and opted for ceramics, wood, and canvas as a medium to express their artistic skills. The smaller hall also displays an assortment of tools calligraphers often use while working on their pieces.
From the layout to the pieces of art and how they are being displayed, it is clear that a lot of effort was invested into designing and curating the Sharjah Calligraphy Museum. The effort goes down to the smallest piece of detail; even the sofa you will sit on for a rest has calligraphy embroidered on it.
Once a year the museum organizes Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial where national and international calligraphers get a chance to showcase their works. The museum periodically holds calligraphy workshops where aspiring artists can polish their skills.
Without a doubt, the Shrajah Calligraphy Museum comes as a much-needed step toward preserving an artistic and valuable aspect of our Arabian identity. Maybe sometime in the future there will be more calligraphy-oriented museums springing up elsewhere in the Arab world.