The Artist

Artist statement

(Under re-construction, yet again!)


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. Her work is found in private and public collections in Europe, the USA and the Middle East. She teaches Kufi calligraphy at the Arab British Centre and has given talks and demos about her work with historical art technology at Stanford, the School of Tradfitional Arts, the AUC and other institutions. 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. 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 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


2024  (Upcoming) Visiting Research Fellow in Creative Arts at Merton College, Oxford

2023   Arteventura, Aracena, Spain

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

Publications & Press

teaching & talks

2024    (Upcoming) Art as Knowledge Keeper, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon
2024    Making Inks from Plants, Making Paints from Pigment, nine-day course, School of Calligraphy and Ornamentation, Fujairah, UAE

2023    Translation through Praxis, demonstration talk 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, School of Traditional Arts, London

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

2022   Inks & Paints of the Middle East, five-day course, School of Traditional Arts, London

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

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

2022   Mentor for Circular Design Training Program, Goethe Institut

2021   Natural Dyes zoom lecture, American University of Cairo, Egypt

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 calligraphy and related techniques, The Arab-British Centre, London (ongoing)