Joumana Medlej was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. After an early career in graphic design and illustration, her life took an unexpected turn when master calligrapher Samir Sayegh invited her to be his assistant. Through years of close collaboration, she learned the essence of Kufic, the origin of all Arabic calligraphy. She developed her own visual language out of this lesser-known style.
Joumana moved to London in 2013 to dedicate herself to her art practice. Her work is found in private and public collections in the Middle East and in the West. She has done work for the Royal Mint, Apple Inc., Amnesty, BBC Arabic, and the Royal Hashemite Court of Jordan. She teaches Kufic calligraphy at the Arab British Centre and on Domestika.
I use the ancient Kufi script to create art infused with meaning and reverence. Free from iconography, the work bypasses the mind to engage a deeper recognition. The geometric compositions refer us not to the world of forms but to a cosmic order; their architectural quality generates a space in which one is held in contemplation and stillness.
The stylized, repeated words that make up the work endow it with the Kufi script’s intrinsic qualities—an affinity with geometry, an inner consonance of shapes and proportions that reflects classical teachings on Beauty—making each piece a self-contained whole, a world with its own natural laws. This is enhanced by the aliveness of hand-prepared materials: I have returned to the ancient practice of making my own colours and foraging for pigments. In this way, the creative process begins with the alchemical meeting of human consciousness and nature, and the physicality of transforming matter for the sake of beauty.
While I use paper more than any other support, for its warmth and its aptitude to be cut, layered, folded to create shadows, I also look for ways to keep art out of a frame. This quest for depth and unmediated experience finds ultimate expression in my wall sculptures, which break free from any framing device to grow straight out of the wall—and, on a different scale, my artist books which can be held and enjoyed in a personal, intimate way.
- Solo: In So Many Words, Pictorem Gallery, London 2019.
- The Society of Women Artists 2018 Exhibition, Mall Galleries, London.
- “Art in Times of Crisis” talk, exhibition and workshops, Raleigh, USA, 2017.
- Collective: “Lighting the Darkness”, London, December 2015.
- Work included in “Signs, Traces and Calligraphy“, 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
- Collective: “Maktoob: Contemporary Calligraphy” , Maasser Beiteddine, Lebanon, 2012
- Contemporary British Published Collections, The British Library, UK
- The Khayrallah Center, NCSU, USA
- The KA Collection, Lebanon
- Gallery One, King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, KSA
- The Jihad and Farouk Abillama Collection, Lebanon
- 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
- Assistant and apprentice to Master Samir Sayegh, Beirut, 2007-2012
- BGD (Bachelors of Graphic Design), American University of Beirut, 2001
- Consultant for Apple Inc. 2016 – ongoing
- Tutor in Kufic Calligraphy at the Arab British Centre, London, April 2014 – ongoing
- Designs for the Royal Mint, 2021
- Calligraphy workshops at universities including Badr International Study Centre, University of Manchester, UCL since 2014
- Designs for BBC Arabic Aan Korb awards, October 2014
- 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 misc 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 for Lebanese Heritage educational children’s books (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
- Artist Books Now, British Library, London, May 2019.
- Art in Times of Crisis, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, 2017
- 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
- Middle East Eye
- 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)