Eight Hundred ضاد اللغة

Oakgall ink, cinnabar, egg tempera on paper: Saunders Waterford HP 300 gsm, 76x56 cm.

Date7 February 2016

Arabic is called لغة الضاد, “the language of Ḍad“, because this letter exists in no other language. Whether that’s absolutely true, I don’t know, but it is certainly an unusual sound, a deep D from the throat. The numerical value of ض is 800, so I set out to create a pattern out of 800 letters, not mechanically but with a bamboo reed and ink, and no margin for any error. In a reversal of the deadening trend of traditional calligraphy, which consists in training the hand till it mechanically draws the exact same character every time, I gave each of these hundreds of letters my full attention and intention, looking for its essence through imperceptible variations from one to the other: lengthening the tail, narrowing or widening the space inside the letter, rounding the angles. In the changing thickness of the lines, you can read the wearing out and re-cutting of the reed. The result is that they are all the same letter, but they are still all unique. This also created a variegated texture, with the feel of cloth hand-woven out of coarse-spun thread.

Amusingly, before I could add the dot that distinguishes Ḍad, I had to write eight hundred Ṣad, initial letter of sabr (“patience”)…

You can watch me creating this piece from beginning to end in this short movie:

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