Nasser Al-Salim, a young emerging painter with extensive training in the tholoth, farsi, diywani, jalidiywani and roqa’a scripts, used his unique skilled penmanship to
produce his latest silk screen print on paper artwork called “Tarikh Al-Kaaba” (The history of the Kaaba), which was recently exhibited at the Young Saudi Artists exhibition at Athr Gallery.
An architect by profession, he was born and raised in Makkah. Having learned calligraphy at the age of 12 at the Grand mosque of Al-Haram in Makkah, he has since become very passionate about it. This element is particularly noteworthy as it is seen in most of his art productions and paintings. His current work on display is strongly characterized by the inspirations he finds from the Kaaba and Islamic traditions.
Arab News spoke to Al-Salim to find out more about his work.
What is the concept behind “Tarikh Al-Kaaba?”
“Tarikh Al-Kaaba is a topographical representation of the history of Al-Kaaba as a house of worship from the period in time of Hajar performing the saie in search of water for her son prophet Ismail (PBUH), when God commanded Prophet Ibrahim to leave his wife and infant son in the desert as a test of faith to the period of the day of summoning.
The Kaaba, which is the focal point of prayer of all Muslims housed in the Masjid Al-Haram, is depicted by the alphabet Sukoon reflective of the tranquility one experiences upon seeing it.
There is a geometric representation of the Safa and Marwa, the hills between which Hagar ran in search of water, the Zamzam well which sprang forth as a result of baby Ismail (PBUH) kicking the sand and Prophet Ibrahim’s (PBUH) foot prints encased in a metal inlay as is present at Al-Haram.
The calligraphy around the Kaaba and between the Safa and Marwa is an artistic representation of the faithful performing the tawaf around the Kaaba and the saie between the two hills of Safa and Marwa.
Can you explain why the work is divided into seven pieces?
I wanted to explain the history of Islam with the conception of the Kaaba as a house of worship up until how things are predicted to turn out in the end of times.
The seven pieces are references to the seven rotations that are made around the Kaaba. The first of the series explains the beginning of Islam when Hajar ran between the hills, thus commemorating the saie ritual that is followed today by all the Muslims during umrah. The second series explains the time when Islam was established and people started to circumambulate the Kaaba and perform umrah. Islam had staunch supporters then with prophet Ibrahim having erected the house of worship with his son prophet Ismail. The third signifies the time when the polytheists had erected idols around the Kaaba and lost good faith. This I have shown by the change in the color tone from black to gray calligraphy, referring to the change in the beliefs of monotheism. The fourth series represents the period when Islam was established again under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with a strong foothold and the idols were destroyed and people regained their faith, which is represented by the consistency of the calligraphy around the Kaaba and between Safa and Marwa. You see with each series there is an increase in the amount of calligraphy, indicating the increasing number of people accepting Islam.
The fifth series shows a diagrammatic shift in the calligraphy with the addition of foreign texts around the Kaaba, indicating the globalization of Islam. The sixth series depicts a breach in the continuity of the calligraphy between Safa and Marwa and around the Kaaba. By this, I wanted to depict that the followers are one in their purpose of worshipping Allah, but some hold different beliefs. Their faith is scattered and agitated.
The last of the series is meant to interpret the day of judgment when Allah’s wrath will cause the world to perish and the Kaaba will be raised.
Which point in your work do you believe the world is in at this age?
I guess it has to be the fifth. People are still strong in their beliefs. Millions have converted to Islam. They are still praying, observing Ramadan and are making the yearly pilgrimage of Haj. Hopefully we will not reach the sixth stage of what I am representing by my art. But, by Allah’s word this is bound to happen. It is written in history.
Have you exhibited this particular piece outside Saudi Arabia?
Yes, at Edge of Arabia in Istanbul. It was well received.
Are any of your other works on display?
Yes. The collection is paint on silk and is titled “Bismillah” (In the name of Allah), and it is being exhibited at Athr Gallery.
What is the purpose of most of your works reflecting the Islamic literature?
Firstly, I believe in starting all my work with Bismillah, because I believe one receives mercy from Allah in doing so. I mainly try to focus on Islamic calligraphy because in this time and age I feel it is important to assert one’s Muslim identity and I want my work to reflect my traditions and the Islamic culture. I want to promote Islam and the beauty of Islam through calligraphy.