Identity and heritage: How Arabic calligraphy is an important part of Saudi culture

Calligraphy is an art form that has existed in the Arab world for centuries, transforming simple words into a more poignant form of expression, originating when artists of old times would design elaborate and graceful flows of words from the holy Quran. It’s a part of Saudi Arabian cultural identity that is taken pride in and beloved by many; today, you can see the art of calligraphy decorating the streets of the kingdom in the form of sculptures and art installations all over the cities – as part of an initiative by the Ministry of Culture launched in 2020 under the name “Year of Arabic Calligraphy” and continued through 2021.


The first Arabic inscriptions can be found in carvings dating back as early as the 6th century BCE. The earliest form of these scripts is known as Jazm, which inspired a variety of scripts including the Naskhi style which was favored by Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and his companions, and the Kufic style script that by the 7th century had become popular for its geometric design and for its use inscribing the Quran. As Kufic evolved and inspired other forms, a more cursive style became prevalent around the 12th century.


Lebanese calligrapher Kamel Al Baba wrote about the Moors of Spain copying Arabic Calligraphy in designing arabesque-style decorations, and as a result Andalusian vases are found today with what resembles Arabic but makes no sense to an Arabic reader, where the designs were only used for beauty rather than meaning. However, to many the art of Arabic calligraphy is an important aspect of the Arab identity.


As Nugamshi, a talented Saudi contemporary artist who has presented calligraphy-based art performances and installations around the US and Middle East using unusual tools and mediums, says, “I believe one of the most beautiful arts in human history is Arabic calligraphy and calligraphy in general. When you see a Chinese character, you associate it in your memory immediately with a flash of something about the culture; it’s the same for Arabic calligraphy. This is why I believe the characters, or the language, is the most powerful identity.”


Its significance as a cultural art form is so great that it has recently been officially registered in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as “Arabic Calligraphy: Knowledge, Skills, and Practices”.


King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture located in Dhahran – also known as Ithra – offers the opportunity to explore the history and varied designs of Arabic calligraphy through its participation in the MoC’s initiative, providing exhibits, workshops, and other educational programs aiming to teach and implement this historic art form.


Plan an incredible sightseeing trip with Sana Tourism to experience calligraphy art installations (and more) first hand, our expertise in the tourism field has enabled us to craft many fantastic trips for travelers to the kingdom. Reach out to us now with any inquiries!

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