Calligraphy, at least for those who choose to do it right, is one of the most time-intensive expressions of art. The awards Ali Al-Baddah has been presented with are testament to the time he takes to make sure his work is the very best. We met Ali, looked at some of his recent work, and tried to get a feel for how he values his investment of time in the pieces.
Men’s Passion: The work that you do, some of it at least, appears very complex and indeed spiritual. How do you approach your work? Is it from a religious perspective?
Ali Al-Baddah: Not exclusively, no. Certainly in the past calligraphy was completed to serve the Quran, artists were paid and often simply chose to express their religion through calligraphy, but if you study the history of calligraphy further back you’ll see that artists have always taken the best proverbs and the best poetry and illustrated these through their work.
MP: So it’s a broader range than simply religious expression?
A Al-B: It is. It’s about life, it’s about love. I’m trying to return calligraphy back to its roots. I want to show people that this kind of art is for everyone.
MP: Do you feel calligraphy still has a place in the modern world, a place where it can exist as more than mere decoration?
A Al-B: I do. I’m not trying to use the old ways, I’m trying to combine modern techniques with the beauty of our culture.
MP: How do you approach a new work? What is it that inspires you?
A Al-B:I’m trying to demonstrate the beauty of our language too, so it’s important for me to be inspired by beautiful words. For some calligraphers, like my good friend Khaled Al-Saai, he looks for beauty in the form of the letter, and Farah Behbehani in her beautiful book ‘The Conference of the Birds’ partly looked for a code or a rhythm within the letters, but I look primarily at delivering the emotion the word gives me.
MP: The works that you complete and very detailed, and very time-intensive.
A Al-B:They are. Usually when I work I spend not less than eight or ten hours. Some of my works take many days to complete, especially when I work with water-colours. I think what is important about my work is the time I spend trying to capture that emotion that I feel from the word – even for those people who don’t read Arabic, it’s important for them to be able to understand my feeling.
MP: So these are works that you work on to appeal through a visual channel as well as literary?
A Al-B:Oh, absolutely. And I’ve spoken with many non-Arabic speakers who have seen my work and have managed to describe to me exactly the emotion I was trying to deliver. I do this through working with specific shapes, or colours, and carefully practiced techniques.
MP: You’ve been commissioned to complete a number of works including some for His Highness The Amir’s office at Seif Palace. Do you approach these works any differently to your regular works?
A Al-B:Not really. My work is my work. Of course I’m very proud to have my work in Seif Palace and in many other great buildings and homes in Kuwait and across the region, but essentially my work remains true to me. I don’t think about the final destination for my work until they are finished. While I am working on them my focus is solely on the meaning and the delivery of the beauty of our language and culture through art.
First Published in Men's Passion Issue #23 June-July-August 2010