Beyond the Pen, King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture

Rebecca Horton, Assistant, International Training Programme

Last week the International Engagement team gave a British Museum Staff Breakfast talk about a live project. Staff breakfasts are regular talks at the British Museum, given by Museum staff to their colleagues. This is a great way of ensuring staff have the opportunity to catch up with colleagues and keep up to date with what is going on in the British Museum.

Miriam Lloyd-Evans, Fergus Reoch and Julie Carr (lead curator, project curator and interpretation officer) spoke about their current exhibition Beyond the Pen at the newly built King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Saudi Arabia. The Center took three years to build and is architecturally inspired by pebbles standing in the sand of the desert, and the gushing of oil.

King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture

Beyond the Pen is an exhibition set to open in 2017 and will celebrate artists who are inspired by the Arabic script, presenting Arabic calligraphy as an exciting, innovative and relevant art form.  Through contemporary artworks that incorporate the Arabic script, the exhibition explores the power of the tradition, its evolution and its constant reinvention by contemporary artists. These artists experiment with new technology and media – including the use of spray paint, light and video.

Julie Carr explained as visitors walk in they will experience a welcoming environment and an open space, to ensure new visitors to museum and art gallery spaces feel comfortable and will want to return. ‘Gateway’ artworks will be positioned throughout the exhibition to maintain a clear message and to create an intellectually accessible experience.

The sense of innovation and creativity expressed by the architecture of the Center itself will certainly be carried through into the gallery space of Beyond the Pen. 50 objects will be displayed in three sections: Divine Revelation, Drawing from Material Culture and Urban Dialogues. Some of the objects which will be displayed include…

Haji Noor Deen Mi Guangjiang’s work: a contemporary artist who fuses Chinese and Arabic Calligraphic traditions, combining the word of God with a unique script. He uses the Sini script – a style of Arabic calligraphy invented by Chinese Muslims in the 1300s. Some of the artworks appear to be written with Chinese characters, but on closer inspection are written in heavily stylised Arabic.

Haji Noor Deen Mi Guangjiang, Various works, 2007-9

Slavs and Tatar’s Kh Taketh Away (2012): outlines a diagram of an open mouth marked with the letters of the Arabic alphabet, among other alphabets. The diagram provides a visual guide of where in the mouth sounds of letters are produced. The image is printed onto a mirror, encouraging the visitor to start pronouncing letters and words, and thinking about how their language informs their identity.


Slavs and Tatar, Kh Taketh Away, 2012

Abdulrahman Nugamshi Calligraffiti (a term coined to describe the merging the art of calligraphy and graffiti): Nugamshi will be filmed creating his pieces before the exhibition opens, the video of the process will be displayed with the final artwork.

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Abdulrahman Nugamshi, Jameel, 2014

When listening to Miriam Lloyd-Evans and Fergus Reoch speak about the artworks, the fusion both of cultures and styles and of traditional and contemporary artistic media became a recurring theme. Julie Carr, interpretation officer for the project, stated that the young audience of Saudi Arabians had to be taken into consideration (60% of the population in Saudi Arabia is under 30) when planning the project; the tradition of art and the Arabic script is ancient, but has always been new, expressive and bold for its time, the modern art pieces to be displayed in the exhibition maintain this legacy. The objects selected invite people to look more closely and interact, which made for a very interesting staff breakfast and looks to be an incredibly exciting exhibition.


Beyond the Pen Exhibition Design