Joumana Medlej creates Abstract Art to evoke universal truths. Unburdened by iconography, the work bypasses the mind to speak directly to the heart. The images refer the viewer not to the world of forms but to a cosmic order; their architectural quality generates a space in which the observer is held in contemplation and a sense of mystery.
A key component of the work is the use of words, hidden in plain sight: Joumana’s visual language is based on Kufi, the first great Arabic script, now largely forgotten even by native speakers. She received the essence of Kufi while working with master calligrapher Samir Sayegh, and went on to gain a deep understanding of it through her own practice and research. The stylized, repeated words that make up each art piece endow it with the script’s intrinsic qualities—an inner consonance of shapes and proportions that reflects classical teachings on Beauty—making each of them a self-contained whole, a world with its own natural laws.
Materials and techniques vary: acrylic, watercolour or even egg tempera, on paper, wood or metal surfaces. Joumana calls on the full intensity of colour. She rarely uses paint from the tube, instead mixing the raw pigments to tailor their interaction with light: from bottomless mattes, to surfaces shimmering with an inner glow and ever-changing iridescent lustres. Similarly, she works with shadows, creating and casting them by layering or folding. The ultimate expression of this quest for depth and unmediated experience are her wall sculptures, which break free from any background to grow straight out of the wall.
Joumana’s work is found in private and public collections in the Middle East and in the West. She has created work for Apple Inc., Amnesty, the Khayrallah Center at NCSU, BBC Arabic, and the Royal Hashemite Court of Jordan. She lives in London, where she also teaches Kufic calligraphy.
Diploma in Traditional Arts (Islamic Manuscript Illumination, Alchemy of Paint, Geometry and World Art, Icon Painting of the Prosopon School, Art of Egg Painting and Gilding) from the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, 2013
BGD (Bachelors of Graphic Design), American University of Beirut, 2001
(A four year program studying experimental methodologies in graphic and communication design. Areas of emphasis: graphic and communication design, publications, packaging, corporate identity, retail design, illustration, animation, typography (Latin/Arabic), interactive and web design.)
- “Lighting the Darkness” with Alan Craxford and Lynette Howells-Moore, London, December 2015.
- Work included in “Signs, Traces and Calligraphy” by Rose Issa, Beirut, 2015
- Work included in “Great Lebanese Painters of the Jihad and Farouk Abillama Collection”, Beirut, 2014
- Sharjah Art Museum’s 5th Summer Art Festival, 2014
- Kuwait’s 6th International Islamic Arts Convention, 2013-14
- Art•Marylebone Art Fair, London, 2013
- Maktoob: Contemporary Calligraphy exhibit, Maasser Beiteddine, Lebanon, 2012
- Photography exhibit in Art Lounge, 2006
- Art exhibit in ADG, Gemmayze, 2005.
- Art exhibit in Salon-de-Provence, France, December 2004.
- Art exhibit in JABAL, Musée Paul Guiragossian, November 2004.
- Art exhibit in ADG, Gemmayze, 2004.
- Private art exhibit in Tokyo, 2004.
- The KA Collection
- King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, KSA
- The Jihad and Farouk Abillama Collection
- Consultant for Apple Inc. March 2016 – Feb 2018
- Calligraphy workshops at Badr International Study Centre, University of Manchester, UCL since 2014
- Designs for BBC Arabic Aan Korb awards, October 2014
- Tutor in Creative Calligraphy at the Arab British Centre, London, since April 2014
- Contributor, Tuts+ online courses 2013-2016
- Assistant to master calligrapher Samir Sayegh 2007-2012, including work for the Royal Hashemite Court and collaboration with the Sharjah Biennale.
- Senior art director, Concept artist, Game designer for Quirkat, 2007-2012
- Storyboards and illustration work for H&C Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi, and other ad agencies 2001-2012
- Author, illustrator and publisher of the graphic novel Malaak: Angel of Peace 2006-2016, and the comic strip Driving in Lebanon.
- Co-author, illustrator and translator for a series of educational children’s books, Lebanese Heritage (13 titles in French and English)
- Assistant professor, Computer Animation, AUB fall ’02-03
- Future TV Animation Department and Zen TV Public Awareness Campaign, 2001-2002
- Freelance writer (French and English) and photographer Femme Magazine, Noun, The Daily Star, other publications 2000-2010
- Living With Mystery panel at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, March 2016
- Festival d’Angoulême, 2013
- The Hay Festival, 2012
- Festival International de Bande Dessinée d’Algérie, 2011
- Geekfest Dubai 2011
- Pecha Kucha 2010
- United Nations – ESCWA Workshop on Delivery of E-Services in Civil Society, 2009
- Interview by Sara Darwish for NCSU (audio)
- Interview by Gena El Aker (video)
- Al Kashaf, Al Araby TV (5 April 2016)
- Living the Life, Islam Channel TV (8 March 2016)
- Al Nashra Finance
- Technology of the Heart
Work appeared in the following publications between 1999 and 2012:
- Lebanon: Lebanon Traveler, RAGMAG, Absolute Beirut, an-Nahar, Noun, NOW Lebanon, Sayidaty, Alinea, L’Orient-Le Jour, Lebrecord.com, Al Anwar, Aïshti Magazine, Cedarwings, Femme Magazine
- International: KULCHA magazine, Gulf Life Magazine, El Bendir (Algeria), El Watan (Algiers), Libano em Revista (Brazil), babelMed.net, Nox, Designers’ Desktop 3 (Japan), Academix (Canada), Elle Oriental, El Mundo (Spain), Idées de Cadre (France), Kul al ‘Usra (UAE), MacLife (Germany), Websites 100% loaded (published by Feierabend), MacPeople Japan, Mac Fan (Japan)
TV appearances 2001-2012:
- Lebanon: al-Hurra (al-Yawm), Mtv, LBC (Bi Beirut, Helwe w Murra, Naharkom Sa3eed, Eich Toumouhatak, Tea Time), New TV (Nataloo), Orbit (Uyoun Beirut), Zen TV (Dardashat)
- International: Medi1Sat, U.S. National Public Radio (The World)