Limited Edition Artist book. Giclée printing, hand-finished with mineral pigments, hand-bound with linen thread and waxed lokta paper. 28x29x2.5cm.
The Book of Abjad refers to the Arabic alphabet, but is short for “abjad hawaz”, which needs a little explaining:
The abjad is originally an alpha-numerical system, meaning the letters also stood for numbers; the positional Hindi numerals used today in Arabic were only adopted around the eighth century, and this so thoroughly most Arabic speakers today are unaware there was ever such a thing as abjad numerals. The original letter sequence, shared with other Semitic alphabets, was also replaced with a formal order that groups letters by similarity of shape.
Abjad hawaz is a mnemonic sentence to remember the original order of the letters, and thereby their corresponding value: abjad hawwaz ḥuṭṭī kalamon saʿfaṣ qarashat thakhadh ḍaẓagh.
As a student of origins and practitioner of the early tradition, I have always looked to the coherence of that system. This artist book started as a visual expression of it, but led to writing a monograph, Stories of Abjad, detailing the different systems that marked the formative period of the Arabic alphabet.
I designed each of the 28 compositions based on the possibilities offered by both number and the shape of the letter involved. I then constructed and painted them individually with historical pigments and using a range of mark-making tools. Some of this process is shown in this five-minute video:
These compositions were scanned and assembled according to the abjad hawwaz groupings, to be giclée-printed into the long life-size unfolding spreads of the book.
Added to these spreads was an individual Lamalif, the 29th letter, to close off the alphabet; I painted 28 of these so that each book would contain a different design.
I created the flap covers, inspired by Andalusian binding, using book board, waxed lokta paper (a beautiful leather substitute) in various hues, and endpapers with patterns that visually link to some of my compositions.The spreads were folded and a header was painted at the front of each, identifying the group of letters inside.
I used coptic binding to assemble the pages together, and the book is put together so that the sewn spine is revealed when it’s open.
As for the original artworks, the 28 letters have been gathered as loose leaves in a bespoke coffret to make an original art piece between book and box.
Coffret of 28 loose works on paper. Historical pigment (cinnabar, orpiment, lapis lazuli or lamp black) in gum tempera on watercolour paper. 28x28cm each. Box: Cardboard lined with wool felt (inside) and bookcloth (outside), acrylic; folder of card, bookcloth and linen thread with brass closure. 32x32x4 cm.