Freedom in Restriction: My Journey with Kufi
with Joumana Medlej
Journey through the tradition of Arabic calligraphy and take in the breathtaking art of bringing form to the formless.
In this Letterform Lecture, we will taste the visual power of a lost calligraphic tradition through one artist’s immersion in the early Arabic scripts broadly labelled as “Kufic." Joumana Medlej uses examples from her work to illustrate the respective qualities of the two great strands of this family, and how she harnesses its visual language to create compositions made of pure meaning. She will share how her journey towards an authentic understanding of the script revealed that it is defined not by an outside set of formal rules, but by more elusive principles that can only be learned through embodied practice, and in return allow greater creative expression.
Letterform Lectures are a public aspect of the Type West postgraduate program. The series is co-presented by the San Francisco Public Library, where events are free and open to all.
Joumana Medlej is an artist, author and educator from Lebanon, best known for her work with early Arabic calligraphy — the Kufi scripts. She was working in graphic design and illustration when her deep connection to this tradition was awakened during the years she assisted master Samir Sayegh in his Beirut studio. Over fifteen years she’s still studying these scripts from primary sources, uncovering their original practice while deriving her own visual language from them. She also specialises in the art materials of that period: having abandoned store-bought paints for the old ways of natural colour-making, she prepares her own supplies using medieval techniques, and forages for pigments and dyes wherever she finds herself. She draws on her practitioner’s experience to translate Abbasid-era Arabic manuals into English and bring the voices of past masters to a general audience. Letterforms, handmade materials and ancient techniques come together in her work to express a timeless reality beyond the visible world.