Mamdouh Al-Sharif, Damascus, Syria, 1885 – 1934.
An Arabic calligraphy artist from Syria, a pioneer in many calligraphic forms, and a revival of the Kufi scripts in the Levant. He practiced and taught calligraphy in his studio in Damascus, and produced significant artworks in Syria and the Arab world.
Today, I’m sharing with you a selected works of Mamdouh Al-Sharif in the Kufi scripts which I believe he exceeded at and added a new Arabian touch to the art of calligraphy whilst the Ottomans were controlling and limiting the Arab people’s life and even their Art back then!
The sources of these works are from my archive and from the internet.
ومن جرّب المجرب حلت به الندامة، من صدق غنم
Mamdouh has experimented in many styles, I’m starting with this minimal one, he played with the Square Kufi blocks to create an avant-garde piece.
A masthead/logo for a cultural magazine that was published in Damascus. We see the courage usage of Kufi as a typographic line.
Mamdouh was famous for using a patterned background under the letters (المهاد) which he inspired from the Mamluk and Fatimide calligraphical practices.
معرض الصانع العربي
In this piece, Mamdouh used a thick and extinct Kufi type, it’s more likely inspired by the Ayyoubide leather and wood works.
An interesting example of mixing Muhaqqaq and Kufi scripts together.
During my research about Mamdouh, I’ve heard several times from calligraphers who met Mamdouh’s students that he was drawing the Kufi letters without a ruler or drawing tools! I can see that true in this piece, a very organic and simple letter drawing, but yet, having Mamdouh’s strong character in it.
أطيب الأشياء اللطف بالقضاء
Look at the Lam-Alef changing shape in every piece!
لئن شكرتم لأزيدنكم، ولئن كفرتم إن عذابي لشديد
Mixed with Naskh.
I’ve extracted this beauty from a Syrian banknote dated February 1933, for me, this is an astonishing example of a very early Arabic graphic design practice, look at the white emptiness around the letters, and how is the fine stroke goes consistent with the patterned background, look at the bold and mono-weight letter shapes but it goes formed into more shapes at the ends, real beauty! And finally, I can’t stop gazing at the Kufic typographical lines with no patterns or Tashkeel, but with dynamic baseline in all letters, what a genius!
Another weird Kufic style, invented by Mamdouh!
رأس الحكمة مخافة الله
Letter shapes free of any constraints!
That was a school signage!
توكلت على الله
All the pieces from here and below will show Kufic works but without patterned background. In this particular one, I was amazed how Mamdouh got the courage to create such piece, it’s against all of the strict and dry instructions of the Ottoman calligraphic methods, as you see, the central mass is off-center to the left, the letter Yaa’ breaks the box on the left as well, the whole piece is breaking the boring symmetry but still having an aesthetic balance somehow!
هذا من فضلك ربي
Another example of playing with symmetry and creating beautiful chaos inside. Crazy letter shapes by the way!
جامع الأمير تنكز الناصري
A signage for a Mamluk mosque in Damascus.
رأس الحكمة مخافة الله
النجاة في الصدق
الأدب خير من الذهب
Beautiful Arabic wisdom by the great hands of Mamdouh Al-Sharif.
فوز و سلامة
Experimental Tree and branches art, this more like lettering in our days’ language, Mamdouh was famous with 60+ styles of Kufi, this weird form is one of them!
العبد فاني الرب باقي
Mamdouh is showing his unique skills and playing with letters in a circular shape!
Epic! What you can see in the design?
دوام الحال من المحال
Mamdouh playing with letters with no restrictions!
السؤدد كرم الأخلاق
He can fit any word into any shape! Total fluidity!
صبرآً على نوب الزمان لأنها –
A simple part of a poem.
مخلوقة لنكاية الأحرار –
The other part of the previous one.
Finally, we have been in a journey with a concealed jewel of the modern art history of Syria, I’ve spent too much time searching a documenting Mamdouh’s works, unfortunately, there is no one good source of his works, I had to dig everywhere and collect every bit and piece, you’ve seen some the of works above has a terrible quality, I’m sorry, that is truly sad! It’s a common thing in Syria and the Arab world, we don’t respect our talents. I hope by this post I’ve added a little tribute to such a unique person.
The business card of Mamdouh Al-Sharif, absolute simplicity!