(The picture above has been altered to show the pattern debossed on the
black background, which is otherwise impossible to see in a photo)
Zalâm ظلام is “darkness”, and extends to mean “ignorance”. Furthermore, if read with a slight emphasis that doesn’t affect the spelling, zallâm ظلّام means: “absolutist, tyrant, dictator, a person advocating a totalitarian system, despotic, unjust”.
I was moved to work with this word in response to the unmentionable events of last week, and this was my starting point, but the piece revealed itself gradually in the making. First, I realized that once given a Kufi treatment, the word zalâm contained the word diyâ’, which is “light”, as shown here:
“Darkness” in black, “Light” in grey.
So the piece became about the seed of light contained in the darkness. (This is not a new idea. In the 5th century Greek philosophers coined the word enantiodromia to describe the fact that anything that reaches its extreme turns into its opposite. Much earlier than this, the knowledge that opposite forces give birth to each other was symbolized by the Taijitu or “yin-yang symbol”.)
The pattern made up of the word zalâm was debossed in the black background, so that it is written really by its own shadow. It is barely visible – well, the nature of darkness is that you can’t see it. The word diyâ‘ was painted with an interference medium, which is mostly transparent on its own but is revealed by light, and changes as the light changes.
Ironically, in the finished result, the small areas of light have much more presence than the mass of darkness, so that another layer of meaning was only revealed upon completion: the fact it takes very little light to dispel even the deepest gloom.