Perhaps the flowing script stands out more to the Western reader as we only recognise it decoratively, rather than understanding its meaning. But it has played an important historical role, too: traditionally, strict Islam frowned upon figurative art, as it was seen as an attempt to compete with Allah. This meant that decorative calligraphy – along with geometric patterns – was the cornerstone of much Islamic art.





Mouneer El Sharaani (Syria/Egypt; Arabic)

Judging from the works in Arabesque, this is a tradition that has been embraced by the contemporary Arabic illustration in all its many forms, even extending to such non-traditional areas as digital illustration or graffitti, whether the lettering is clearly legible, or so sculptural and decorative that it’s bordering on being an abstract element.

Modern Arabic graphic design walks the line between reflecting global creative trends and carrying its distinctive aesthetic – and its myriad cultural messages – out into the wider world. Arabesque portrays a Middle East design scene that is diverse but distinctive, traditional but forward-looking and – to the Western observer – thrillingly novel.

Mehdi Saeedi (Iran; Persian/Latin)