Born in Tunisia in 1952, Abdallah Akar now lives and works in Paris. He studied under Master Iraqi calligrapher Ghani Alani and exhibited for the first time in 1986. He began teaching calligraphy at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris in 1993.
Akar’s mesmerizing installation for Abu Dhabi Art finds its inspiration in the renowned collection of seven pre-Islamic poems known as the Mu’Allaqât, the “suspended poems”. According to tradition, these poems were originally written on silk weavings that hung suspended and floating on the walls of the Kaaba. Written before the Koran, the poems are considered among the founding texts of Arabic language and culture. Akar breathes new life into these storied poems in his installation, suspending seven large cotton banners on which he’s written in Kufic characters the first verses of the seven ancient poems. The banners are arranged so that each woven piece allows light to pass through, boldly outlining the calligraphic characters. The installation functions as a commemorative site for the Mu’Allaqât, and the public is invited to experience the text as a wave of words and colours. The blazing volatility of these textiles evokes the long fourteen centuries that the texts have traversed, like a caravan library, to reach us.
In this work, Akar takes us back to 6th-century Bedouin society, where verbal sparring matches were keenly fought, where the poetry was “powerful and invisible as the wind on dunes,” and where beautiful words were worth all the wealth of the world. In Mecca, the greatest poems were hung floating on the breeze for everyone to see. All the great Arabic poets are represented in Akar’s work: from Ibn Arabî to Nizar Kabbani, from Ibn Al-Roumi to Abou-el-Kacem Chabbi to the renowned Mahmoud Darwich -- Akar celebrates all of them in his art, on paper as well as on canvas.
Each background is a celebration of the geometry of language. Akar hangs transparent papers between the veils and the light sources in order to filter the glow streaming through the poems, which are written in Maghrebi writing. Together, the veils form a college of ancient poetic verse that the viewer can enter to experience “the tears of a loved being” or “the spark of love”. Wandering among these illuminated fabrics becomes a dramatic game of changing combinations and an ethereal amalgamation of textures and words. The woven muslin fabric is appealing because of its texture and transparency, while the Kufic style of calligraphy is used because of its striking geometry. Like Akar, viewers are easily seduced by the complexity of paper and wood as well as the long cotton veils in the installation. The result is a living meditation on tradition and a visceral encounter with the sensations words evoke.
Tunisian artist Abdallah Akar’s installation One Thousand and One Nights was inspired not only by the collection of folk tales by the same name but also by the recent events of the Arab Spring. For Akar, the common element found in the ancient stories and the unfolding of current events is the idea of destiny which manifests itself through the stories as an anomaly. Connecting this to the contemporary moment, Akar has been inspired by the revolution and changes that have continued as though it is indeed destiny. The power of this moment will be recounted as a new tale to future generations as the dawn of a new era. This installation celebrates the development of these revolutionary events, including the recent democratic elections held in Tunisia, as yet another stage and another story. The combination of transparency and vibrant colors in the work becomes a metaphor to express the optimism Akar feels as a result of the uprising and the hope for future transparency in government and life for those who are living in the Middle East.
A Fabric Installation: Tribute to the “Mu’Allaqât”
If only that fabric installation called “Fabric Library”. Acting like an incunabula collector, the artist, Abdallah Akar, summons what the Lebanese poet, Salah Stétié calls “the big odes of the pre-Islam” adding that “they came before the Koran and were the major aqueduct of the Arabic language” talking about the Mu’Allaqât. We are in the 6th century, in the Bedouin society, keen on verbal sparring matches, where the poetry is “powerful and invisible as the wind on dunes” being worth all the wealth of the world. In Mecca people eyes trophies of the winners are floating. From Ibn Arabî to Nizar Kabbani, or from Ibn Al-Roumi to Abou-el-Kacem Chabbi or from the so famous Mahmoud Darwich, as well on paper as on canvas, Abdallah Akar does not forget any great Arabic poet in his art. Nevertheless, we will remind us that the “Mu’Allaqât” appointments he gives him and us are like points of references of his regularly work. The bilingual French and Arabic book called Les Poèmes Suspendus shows it. Hence, three years ago, he dedicated them a publishing at Editions Alternatives, Paris, where we can feel the quintessence of his art. In relation with the ancestral memories which said that the silk weavings used to float on the walls of the Kaaba and where the chosen poems used to be written, Abdallah Akar arranges here seven big banners of cotton fabric (130 x 297 cm) with starch on them, and each piece of weaving allows the light to pass through. Each banner is the result in Kufic characters of the first verses of each seven poems written by the seven poets, which are according to the tradition: Imru'Al-Qays, Antara, Labid, Amr, Tarafa, Zouhayr, and Al Hâreth. On each background we can see a celebration of the geometry. The artist comes in confidence by adding papers written in Maghrebi writing which allows them to enter in the antic verse where we can hear “the tears of a loved being” or “the spark of love”… And these collages are like a game of combinations which makes each combination unique. So, the installation is an addition of seven pieces of weavings which are like a rustle of textures and words. Hence the Fabric Library seems to be a whispering blow.