In the studio: Wissam Shawkat
We catch up with the artist prior to his exhibition 'Letters of Love II' at Mestaria Gallery starting today.
Words by Aneesha Rai in The Lifestyle · Nov 11th, 2022
Internationally renowned artist Wissam Shawkat will launch “Letters of Love II” at Mestaria Gallery, Al Serkal from 11th-30th November 2022. 11 years on from his hugely successful exhibition, “Letters of Love”, in New York comes the second edition; “Letters of Love II”. The collection is made up of 50 original artworks all centering around the key theme of love. Shawkat’s research and artistic journey can be summed up in two words; “letters” and “love” and both are at the very heart of his work.
Shawkat is considered regionally and internationally as a leading authority on Arabic calligraphy and yet is largely self-taught; attaining mastery through book research, and visits to various masters, museums, and library collections throughout the region. His technique, “Calligraforms”, which he pioneered himself, leans away from traditional practices and focuses on the form of the script instead, portraying modern symbolism and highlighting the beauty and multiple angles of his works. The results are spectacular and differ greatly from piece to piece. “Letters of Love II is a far cry from the clichéd calligraphy we’ve all encountered. Pushing traditional boundaries, the collection includes abstract and Cubist pieces. It’s colourful, full of poetry, symbolism, and most importantly - love. We catch up with Wissam prior to his show tonight on his thoughts on art & design in Dubai, coupled with his favourite design spots in the city.
Q: Tell us a little more about the inspiration behind Letters of Love II? Why do a second collection on the same theme?
Wissam: Love is a subject that has always been part of my journey. Even before the first “Letters of Love” show, which took place in New York, 11 years ago. When introducing my work in New York I focused on the subject of “love” as I felt being an Arab artist, with a focus on the number 11, that the message of love was an important gesture to share with the city, following September 11th. The inspiration around doing a second show is twofold: it has been 11 years since that show in NYC and now more than ever, love, again, feels like an important theme to be focusing on right now. The significance of the number 11 is very strong, as I left my home in Basra, Iraq in the 11th month of 2011. My work has really developed over 11 years though and the difference is notable. I have introduced “Calligraforms”, which encompass so many styles and have become my signature, so I felt it was the time to share these works here in my home, Dubai.
Q: What inspires your art?
Wissam: To be honest there is nothing specific. I am influenced by beauty that you can find all around you whether here in Dubai or abroad. Of course, when I travel I visit new places and museums. I really enjoy contemporary and modern art; I enjoy movements like Cubism, futurism, abstract, expressionism, and hard-edge painting. I get inspired by the beauty in life, this could be something as simple as a text or a walk somewhere new.
Q: Who are some of your favourite local artists?
Wissam: There are so many great artists but a favourite local artist, would be Majid Alyousef, we have similar styles and ideas but I respect his work so much. Julia Ibbini is another, she does these amazing and very contemporary geometric, Islamic patterns. They are very intricate and beautiful.
Q: Your view on Dubai as an arts & culture hub?
Wissam: I have been living in Dubai for the last 20 years, so I've definitely seen Dubai earn its place on the map as an international art hub. With so many galleries, venues, artists, art events, and activities it is now a genuine art scene. Plus, this is where I have been working and developing my work. I think the city of Dubai has a big influence on my work because Dubai is always moving forward and it is very futuristic. It helps me look at my art and see how I should continue to evolve and develop too.
Q: What are some of your favourite design spots in Dubai?
Wissam: As a thriving City it has so many design spots and I really do enjoy them all. I love The Gate Village at the DIFC. I love to have coffee in Cassette at the Courtyard, and of course Alserkal because of its many galleries and the Dubai Design District because of its wonderful mix of galleries, food, and art.