Artist statement

    My work uses the aniconic but culturally rooted languages of script and geometry to bring intangible realities into form.

    I shape the ancient Kufi styles to create pieces where image and meaning are one. Free from iconography, but not obviously legible, 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 stylised, repeated words that make up each piece endow it with the 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. The austere shapes are brought to life by the use of natural materials, with their earthiness and restful imperfection. My colours are hand-prepared and often foraged: 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.

    Artist books add a personal and tactile experience to this approach, taking art off the wall so it can tell more complex stories that unfold in multiple dimensions.

    Treasure boxes shift the focus away from a mostly visual experience to engage all the senses and tell a story in a non-linear manner that is for the user to shape. In this 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 feeling 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 specialises in the art materials of that period as well: 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 also draws 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. 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 has authored two books on art technology: Inks & Paints of the Middle East and Wild Inks & Paints.


    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  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

    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


    • 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   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