Joumana Medlej is an artist, author and educator from Lebanon, best known for her work with early Arabic calligraphy, from which her visual language is derived. After an early career in graphic design and illustration, her deep connection to this tradition was awakened during the years she assisted master Samir Sayegh in his Beirut studio. She also specialises in the art materials of that period: having abandoned store-bought paints for the old ways of natural colour-making, she prepares her own supplies using medieval techniques, and forages for pigments and dyes wherever she finds herself. She’s now drawing on her practitioner’s experience to translate Abbasid-era Arabic manuals into English and bring the voices of past masters to a general audience.
Joumana is now based in East London and works out of her Hackney Wick studio. She teaches Kufi calligraphy and inkmaking at the Arab British Centre, the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, and on Domestika. She’s collaborated with the Aga Khan Museum and the Goethe Institute on educational projects, and has done work for the Royal Mint, Apple, Amnesty, BBC Arabic, and the Royal Hashemite Court of Jordan. She’s the author of two books on art technology: Inks & Paints of the Middle East and Wild Inks & Paints.
Work included in The Future of Traditions, Writing Pictures: Contemporary Art from the Middle East, Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London Jan-March 2023.
- Group: The Written Word, Woolf Institute, Cambridge 2022.
- Solo: In So Many Words, Pictorem Gallery, London 2019.
- Work included in The Society of Women Artists 2018 Exhibition, Mall Galleries, London.
- Solo: Art in Times of Crisis talk, exhibition and workshops, Raleigh, USA, 2017.
- Group: 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
- Group: 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 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
- Aga Khan Museum, online workshop, October 2022
- Mentor for the Goethe Institute’s Circular Design, autumn 2022
- Tutor in medieval Islamic art technology and calligraphy at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, 2022- ongoing
- Designs for the Royal Mint, 2021 – ongoing
- Consultant for Apple Inc. 2016 – ongoing
- Tutor in Kufic Calligraphy at the Arab British Centre, London, April 2014 – ongoing
- Calligraphy workshops at universities including Badr International Study Centre, University of Manchester, UCL since 2014
- Designs for BBC Arabic Aan Korb awards, October 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 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
- Bayt al Fann, August 2022
- iTV Anglia, 12 June 2022
- 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)