Kun, ink and gold leaf on muraqqa paper, signed in Arabic and dated 2009 lower left, framed, 192 x 90cm (75 9/16 x 35 7/16in).
"The first thing God created was the Pen. He created the tablet and asked the Pen to "Write". And the Pen replied "what shall I write". He said "Write My Decrees" of My Creation till the Day of Resurrection. Then the Pen traced that which has been ordained."(Hadith Qudsi from the Prophet Muhammad as reported by Tirmidhi).
"Noon. By the Pen and that which they Inscribe. (Opening Verse Surah Qalam- The Holy Qu'ran).
The Originator of the Heavens and Earth! And when He decreeth a thing. He saith unto it only: Be! (Kun) and it is (Fayakuun). (2:117. The Holy Qu'ran).
The painting entitled Kun by Professor Dr. Nassar Mansour of Amman, Jordan, is one of the most iconic works of Islamic art in the 21st. century. In the time to come, this artwork may be regarded as one of the summits of Islamic calligraphy, being the culmination of more than 1400 years, of experimentation, codification and meditation by the calligraphers of the Islamic world. This large work (190 x 98 cm approx.) offered for sale, is informed by the highly complex metaphysical, mystical and geometric concepts inherent to Islam. It is balanced by a stress on form and elegance. At the same time it is not only pure, minimalist but also timeless. Timelessness is the one main criterion of a Sacred art.
However, before the work is discussed in detail, it is absolutely crucial to understand the importance of calligraphy and the "Word" in the context of the civilization of Islam.
The very raison d' etre of the art of Islamic calligraphy is the Holy Qur'an, a Book which is central to the lives of 1.5 billion or so people of the Islamic world today. The impact of this Book cannot be overestimated since throughout the centuries it has promoted the integration of very diverse societies stretching from Spain to parts of China and inspired an art form centered on the written word.
One of the great qualities of the Pre Islamic Arabs was their acute language consciousness which centered on their verbal tradition of poetry. However, at the time they seemed to have looked down upon the written word. Once the Qur'an, was revealed, there arose a paramount need to record and hand down to future generations every syllable of the Holy Book with exactitude. This was the impetus which led to the Sacred art of Islamic calligraphy. In other words the absolute necessity to record the Holy Qur'an in such a way that it was not only an auditory but equally important a visual experience due to the sheer beauty of calligraphy which inscribed the Sacred text.
In Islam and its civilization, the concept is Word made Book through another Purity, this time being the unlettered Prophet Muhammad who was the Receptacle of the Divine Revelation. Herein, lay the paradox that the successors to the unlettered Prophet should be destined to excel in the art of writing when prior to the Revelation they were indifferent to this art. It seems that the impetus was as much to say " Since we have no choice but write down the Revelation, then let the written record be as powerful an experience for the eye as the memorized record is for the ear when the Verses are spoken or chanted". Thus one can state that for these above reasons many great styles of calligraphy developed. The earliest period saw the transformation of the Hejazi scripts from the time of the Orthodox Khalifas to the Kufic group of scripts which held their ascendance in transcribing the Holy Qur'an till the mid Abbassid period. In the 9th century AD, the Abbassid Prime Minister Ibn Muqla (D.940 AD) who himself was an expert geometer and calligrapher developed precise rules cursive calligraphy which were codified in his landmark book called the Khatt Al Mansoub. These rules were based on sacred geometry of which one of the crucial elements is the circle. So the Ba, Ta letter forms are derived from the diameter of circle. The circle itself is subdivided into 8 rhombic dots vertically which form the Alif while the Ha, Jeem, Ayn letter forms are three quarters of circle and so on. Ibn Muqla laid the rules for the six main cursive scripts such as Muhaqqaq, Thuluth, Naskh etc. and which are still in usage today.
The sister copies, (in smaller sizes of 45 x 25cm. and 70 x 40cm. and in the permanent collection of the British Museum), have been displayed in two major exhibitions in both UK and overseas.
The first exhibition was the Pen is mightier than the sword which took place in Melbourne, Australia in 2003 before traveling to Kaula Lampur, Malaysia in 2004. The second time, both the versions in the collection of the British Museum were displayed was the Word into Art exhibition held in London in 2006 and in Dubai in early 2008.
The works received extensive coverage in both London and Dubai. One version of the work was on the front cover of the Financial Times art magazine issued at the time of the Dubai exhibition. Earlier when the Word into Art exhibition was on, it was specifically reviewed by the Guardian, a leading UK newspaper in its art review. The Guardian asked Dr. Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum to comment on this work. He compared this work to one of the most famous works of Western art namely the Creation of Adam by Michaelangelo. In their review the Guardian suggested that for 500 years this image of the Creation of Adam by Michaelangelo "has been our mythic image of mankind, where any thinking about body and spirit starts". The painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel where Popes are nominated depicts the very act of Creation (Kun Fayakuun) as the figure of Adam receiving Intellect by God who is surrounded by angels in a cloud resembling the human brain. The Guardian commentator then says the following about this work "If you come from a tradition that has renounced representation in religious contexts such as Islam (there are no images in the Koran or in mosques) how do you how can you shape that thinking through art?
Nassar Mansour's Kun shows exactly that moment of creation as represented by Michaelangelo, but graphically. The Qu'ran describes the moment of Creation as " He said to him :" Be" and it was ". The artist, instead of showing the event, shows us the word of the Arabic script itself. Kun is the Arabic for" Be". The creation of humanity. The continuing word. A totally different way of imagining ourselves.
David Barrie, the director of the UK Art fund was equally fulsome in his praise and nominated Professor Mansour as a calligrapher extraordinary. This was a powerful graphic work which in his view did not need the viewer to be familiar with Arabic as the work could be enjoyed on its own terms. "This is just a beautiful abstract design the fact that this is a word adds a punch"
In the composition of this work, Prof. Mansour demonstrates deep knowledge of the rules of calligraphy and also of geometry since the design is based on intersecting circles as demonstrated below. The script itself belongs to a type known as bent Kufic or Eastern Kufic which was the preferred script in 9th to 11th century in the area of modern day Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. The fonts of the script used in this art work are derived from Fatimid Kufic which was one of the highest points in the development of the Kufic group of scripts.
As for the actual word which states Kun or "Be", this appears in the Holy Qur'an eight times in seven different chapters.
One of the fundamental concepts governing this painting which is in a semi circular shape, is informed by what is known as the Vesica Piscis form. The arch of the Kun is the place between Spirit and Matter. "The Vesica Pisics shape is a primordial symbol in the perennial traditions; to the ancient China the diamond figure Yu represented wholeness and the total world... in Medieval Europe the Vesica became the symbol of manifestation and also associated with Christ the Pantocrator..." .
The place that cannot be named may be hinted at, however. The vesica piscis is not just a place of conjunction between spirit and matter. It is not just a place of conjunction of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. However, it has a direct connection with the human body. Some may call the vesica piscis the "Great Name Unspoken." The greatest mysteries of the Islamic mystics , the most well guarded secrets, are in fact, that which is most obvious. Just as Ocam's Razor applies to science, so does it apply to the science of the mystics. For the most elegant solution to the mystics, is the same as that of the scientists, in other words, the simplest one. Ancient deities were represented in pictorial form as being inside the vesica piscis.
One of the greatest of Islamic metaphysicians mentioned Kun fa Yakoun in his landmark book the Meccan Revelations more than fifty times and written in the 13th century A.D. One aspect which the Sheikh Muhiuddin explained, is the linking of the meaning of Kun with the shape of the circle and straight lines. The translation of the relevant material which influenced the construction of this work is as follows:
"To understand how quick was the executing of God's order in creating the world in his saying 'Kun' (as fast as a blink of an eye being an analogy of Kun fa Yakoun), one should watch a burning ember in a hand of someone who is moving it quickly in the air and the image which it leaves in your eyes; either a circle or a straight line depending on the movement if lengthwise or any other shape. One does not doubt, anyhow, that one saw an inflamed circle; in the same time one is sure that in fact there is no such circle but what was formed from the speed of the movement of the ember. This whole image resembles the Divine order of God in his saying 'Kun'.
'When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! And it is'. Here, God's will is represented by that presumed line which we draw departing from the centre of a circle to its circumference.
Thus in summation, it is these highly complex metaphysical, mystical analogies and geometric concepts inherent to Islamic art which Dr. Mansour has so clearly understood and implemented in this pristine example of the Sacred Art of Islam.