About the artist

My name is Mustafa Ja’far. I am a visual artist and written words are my raw material.

The Arabic language and its calligraphy are the most indispensable components of my culture. I don’t see Arabic calligraphy as a “conservative” art form associated mainly with religion. I see it as a medium or as a language. As such, it is what you say that matters and not the language per se.

Restricting Arabic calligraphy to writing holy verses is like restricting the Arabic language to prayers. Artists who are capable of producing quality calligraphic work are entitled to put their art in a non-religious context and free themselves from the typical confines of the sacred. Tradition is not worshipping the ashes, but preserving the flame, according to Gustav Mahler.

The focus of my work is primarily on poetry from all over the world, which I initially translate into Arabic and then set in calligraphic compositions. Great verses that speak about the human struggle for freedom, for justice and for equality inspire me.

I studied art in Baghdad (1969-1974) and in Rome (1974-78); worked as creative director for 15 years; and taught Arabic calligraphy for the University of London at the British Museum between 2001 and 2013.