Artist statement

The first seeds of my artistic practice were planted in the darkness of the civil war that defined my childhood. I escaped the chaos and fear by turning inwards; there I found order and permanence, a deeper reality that still sustains me. This is now the core of my work: I look for the greater truths behind personal feelings and outer events, and translate them into form to give the viewer a taste of the wholeness and mystery that underly our brittle world. I use a visual language rooted in my native culture: an ancient Arabic script which I shape to create images made of meaning. Free from iconography, but not obviously legible, the work bypasses the mind to engage a deeper recognition and hold the viewer in stillness.

I have used a variety of mediums, but now prioritise sustainability and respect for the living world. By hand-preparing or even foraging natural colours, I’m involved in the creative act from its earliest starting point, the alchemical process of transforming matter for the sake of Beauty.

With my Artist Books, I take art off the wall so it can tell more complex stories that unfold in multiple, tactile dimensions. My Treasure Boxes involve all the senses along with non-linear storytelling; in their context, objects we consider trivial become centres of meaning, their simple beauty revealed. But while the boxes hint at meaning, they never actually tell: the tension between not-knowing and longing to know is held, the sense of mystery preserved.


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, illustration, comics and even digital games, her deep connection to the Kufi 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 draws on her practitioner’s experience to translate early 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. Her work is found in private and public collections in Europe, the USA and the Middle East. She teaches Kufi calligraphy and inkmaking at the Arab British Centre, the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, and other institutions upon request. She’s collaborated on educational projects with the Aga Khan Museum and the Goethe Institut, and has done work for the Royal Mint, Apple, Amnesty, BBC Arabic, and the Royal Hashemite Court of Jordan. She’s authored and published books on art technology (Inks & Paints of the Middle East, 2020; Wild Inks & Paints, 2021) and on forgotten aspects of the Arabic letters (Stories of Abjad, 2023).


Joumana Medlej

Born 1979 in Beirut, Lebanon.
Lives and works in London, UK.


2013   Diploma in Traditional Arts from the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, London

2007–2012   Assistant and apprentice to Master Samir Sayegh, Beirut, Lebanon

1997-2001 BGD (Bachelors of Graphic Design), American University of Beirut, 2001

Solo & TRIO Exhibitions

2022   The Written Word, The Woolf Institute, Cambridge, UK

2019   In So Many Words, Pictorem Gallery, London, UK

2017  Art in Times of Crisis, The Crafts Center at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, USA

2015   Lighting the Darkness, The Crypt Gallery, London, UK

2012   Maktoob: Contemporary Calligraphy, Art Lounge, Maasser Beiteddine, Lebanon

Selected group Exhibitions

2023   Highlights, Ithra Museum, King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

2023  Through the Looking Glass, Swanfall Art, Mall Galleries, London

2023   Lebanon | Untitled, Janet Rady Fine Art x Artscoops, Cromwell Place, London (download catalogue)

2023   The Future of Traditions, Writing Pictures: Contemporary Art from the Middle East, Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London (download catalogue)

2022–23   The Handmade Book, Stanford Libraries, USA

2020    Works selected for the Sharjah Biennale 2020 (cancelled due to the pandemic)

2019–   Treasures of the British Library, The British Library, London

2018   The Society of Women Artists Exhibition, Mall Galleries, London

2015   Signs, Traces and Calligraphy, Rose Issa Projects, Beirut, Lebanon

2014   Great Lebanese Painters of the Jihad and Farouk Abillama Collection, Beirut, Lebanon

2014   Fifth Summer Art Festival, Sharjah Art Museum, UAE

2013–14   Kuwait’s Sixth International Islamic Arts Convention, Kuwait


  • Princeton University Firestone Library Special Collections, Princeton, USA
  • The Psyche Collection, Paris, France
  • Harvard Fine Arts Library Special Collections, Cambridge, USA
  • Stanford Libraries Gunst Collection, Stanford, USA
  • Contemporary British Published Collections, The British Library, London, UK
  • The Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies, Raleigh, USA
  • Gallery One, King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
  • The Jihad and Farouk Abillama Collection, Beirut, Lebanon


2023   (upcoming) Arteventura, Aracena, Spain

2017   Artist in Residence, The Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies, Raleigh, USA

Publications & Press

teaching & talks

2023    Translation through Praxis, lecture with demonstration for ‘Decoding Recipes’ conference, University of Sheffield

2023   My Journey with Kufi: Freedom in Restriction, online lecture, Letterform Archive

2023   The Art of Letting Go, keynote lecture for the Collegium ‘Uncertainty and the Handmade’, Stanford Libraries, USA

2023   A Conversation Between Calligraphers, panel, Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, London

2023   Magical Inks of Ghāyat al-Hakim workshop for ‘Science & Craft’ conference, Warburg Institute, London

2022–   Tutor in medieval Islamic art technology and calligraphy, Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, London

2022   Al-Qalalusi’s Colour Palette, lecture, Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, London

2022    Introduction to Manuscript Kufi, online workshop, Aga Khan Museum

2022   Mentor for Circular Design Training Program, Goethe Institut

2019   Artist Books Now, panel, British Library, London

2017   Art in Times of Crisis, lecture, The Crafts Center at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, USA

2016   Living With Mystery, panel, St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, London

2014–   Tutor in Kufi scripts, Arab-British Centre, London