x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Mattar bin Lahej brings the moon to The Dubai Mall to shine light on calligraphy

The Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej aims to introduce Arabic calligraphy to the new generation.

Mattar bin Lahej says his work is a way to revive "the true meaning of Arabic calligraphy through Ramadan's magical, meaningful reflections on the moon". Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Mattar bin Lahej says his work is a way to revive "the true meaning of Arabic calligraphy through Ramadan's magical, meaningful reflections on the moon". Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

The nine sculptures that are temporarily on display in The Dubai Mall for the month of Ramadan reveal the result of two decades of practice for Mattar bin Lahej. His work is often characterised by movement and in the piece Moon Reflections, the letters of one short Quranic verse repeated over and over, unfurl from large stainless steel discs in stages that represent the phases of the moon.

Expertly crafted and with gold and silver tones, the discs stand almost two metres tall and the letters create tangible curves that signify the waxing and waning of the moon - the cycle that guides us all through this month.

"My aim was to introduce calligraphy to the upcoming generations, reviving the true meaning of Arabic calligraphy in UAE society through Ramadan's magical, meaningful reflections on the moon," says bin Lahej, who owns Marsam Mattar, a gallery and workshop space in Dubai.

"I thought about the concept for a long time and I was very careful to choose something unique to express it with. I wanted this to be something new. I spent 25 days in the factory to make it."

Bin Lahej is an Emirati artist who spent 16 years teaching himself all the aspects of the trade before he emerged as a visual artist. A stickler for detail and clearly passionate about creation, he started delving deep into the subject in the 1980s, when he was a teenager. He began sculpting at the age of 16 using wood and gypsum, but moved onto metal a few years ago.

Moon Reflections is curiously the realisation of a prophetic dream that his mother had when he was just a child. "She said I would be touched by gold," explains bin Lahej, "and this is my first sculpture made from gold metal."

Not only does it mark a personal milestone but also, bin Lahej says, this piece is a very important step forward for the art scene too, because it is in a public place.

"We should bring art out from behind the walls of the galleries," he says. "There we do have audiences but they are often the same people that go to all the exhibitions. In the mall, three million people will see it. This opens new doors and is very important for local artists."

So, for the days that it will be up over Ramadan and Eid, Moon Reflections will become one of few pieces of public art in the UAE.

The exhibition is sponsored by Emirates NBD and its unveiling was marked last week with a charity auction of three of the artist's previous paintings, with proceeds donated to the Dubai Centre for Special Needs.

Moaza Al Marri, the senior manager of group sponsorship, events and communications at Emirates NBD, says that the bank is committed to the development of Emirati artists through creating platforms to showcase their talent. "Through this exhibition, we aim to promote the beauty of local talent by offering a glimpse of what we experience during the Holy Month," she explains.

"Islamic art and calligraphy have traditionally been confined to art galleries and serious art enthusiasts, as they are often perceived as difficult to understand and appreciate," she added. "At Emirates NBD, we believe it is important to generate extensive visibility for Emirati art and calligraphy, as this will assist in the further growth and development of the art form. We are therefore pleased to organise this exhibition in a mall, which witnesses a huge visitor footfall every day."

Al Marri concludes that the event is part of a series of activities and charity campaigns undertaken by the bank to celebrate the spirit of Ramadan.

Moon Reflections is on display in The Dubai Mall until August 15


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