Recorded Talks

You’ll find here any talks I’ve given that were recorded — about my art practice, Kufi or historical art materials.

2024

Art as Knowledge Keeper

May 27 @ Calouste Gulbenkian Museum: A guided tour of some of the artist’s works that are themselves cosmological diagrams, providing insight into the decision-making and techniques that come into play when into translating information, that may be multi-layered, into abstract visuals.

Watch this talk on the conference page, starting around 5:19:00.

2023

Freedom in Restriction: My Journey with Kufi

March 14 @ the Letterform Archive: In this Letterform Lecture, we taste the visual power of a lost calligraphic tradition through one artist’s immersion in the early Arabic scripts broadly labelled as “Kufic.” Joumana Medlej uses examples from her work to illustrate the respective qualities of the two great strands of this family and harnesses its visual language to create compositions made of pure meaning. She shares how her journey towards an authentic understanding of the script revealed that it is defined not by an outside set of formal rules, but by more elusive principles that can only be learned through embodied practice, and in return allow greater creative expression.

(Or, watch it on Vimeo.)


The Art of Letting Go

January 25 @ Stanford Green Library: Joumana Medlej is a visual artist who has returned to natural materials in her work, and is endlessly testing historical and less historical colours. She describes the temperamental nature of pigments and plant dyes favoured in medieval times which—unlike today’s inert synthetic pigments that do nothing they’re not made to do—react, change or fade each in its own way and for its own reasons. She shows how a working relationship with these living materials allows her to recreate the original splendour of now-faded works, but also, to her mind more compellingly, how taking these materials as they are and embracing their idiosyncrasies can allow a new dimension into the creative process. By giving up some control, she makes space for the unknown to turn up in the work and finish it in ways she couldn’t have planned for.


A Conversation Between Calligraphers

January 23 @ The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts: Avielah Barclay and Joumana Medlej are both deeply engaged in the Art of the Book. Their respective practices as Hebrew scribe and Arabic calligrapher require exceptional skill, embracing not only the technical mastery of a script, but a profound understanding of the scribe’s materials. Their practical skills, as well as extensive knowledge of historical texts, offer unique glimpses into this traditional art. The evening’s presentation will touch on the global nature of the medieval world, the dynamic exchange among scribal cultures, and how their own work is a living extension of this ancient tradition.


2022

Al-Qalalusi’s Palette

October 5 @ The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts: Treasures of the Select’ by Abu Bakr Muhammad al-Qalalusi is a thirteenth century compendium of recipes and techniques which the author describes as necessary skills for writers and book artists. He ends his comprehensive treatise with a list of twelve core pigments, their substitutes, and further hues that are mixed from them. In this talk punctuated by demonstrations, we will work through this list to learn about the colour technology of the late medieval Islamic tradition and what ‘Treasures’ reveals of their manufacture and usage, recreating on paper al-Qalalusi’s palette.