sacred text, commands an exalted status in the Muslim world.
Originally revered because it was the medium in which the
Prophet’s teachings were recorded, the written word soon
became esteemed in its own right as a highly sophisticated
discipline. It is still pious inscription but in the art
world it is also a painterly idiom. However, unlike other
genres of art, its spiritual aura accords it another level
of respect and admiration.
As an art
medium, calligraphy paintings are broadly divided into two
categories: some artists favour the use of traditional
scripts supported by design elements while others prefer to
invent their own style of writing as an independent
technical pattern. Likewise, legibility and readability is
of primary importance to some while others distort at will.
There are also trained ‘khatats’ who paint with the zest of
an artist and painters who have improvised on ‘khatati’ as
Honored with a
pride of performance by the Government of Pakistan in 2009,
Ruheena’s outstanding calligraphic masterpieces have been
presented to many head of states such as Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia, Iran, Bahrain.
ABOUT RUHEENA MALIK
The field of
calligraphy in Pakistan is dominated largely by men and the
emergence of Ruheena Malik as a female calligrapher with an
individual approach is something of a novelty. Entirely
unlettered in the art of calligraphy, yet writing with the
fluency of a ‘khatat’, Malik’s rendering of Quranic text
defies both categories.
Completely readable and free from avant garde stylisations,
her scripts resemble but are not exact duplications of any
of the established forms of Islamic calligraphy like Kufic,
Thulth, Naskhi or Nastaliq. Formerly ungiven to writing, she
now creates contemporary compositions of Arabic ‘ayets’
(verses) often inspired by the calligraphic art of Quranic
Making elaborate use of ornamental panels, seals, stamps,
dividers, ascenders and other embellished patterns of the
illuminated pages, she gives the written word a rich
decorative look in modern formats.
Her intricate, balanced and accurate writings of such
lengthy passages as Surahs Rehman and Baqara (completed in a
sequence of nine panels), as well as the much favoured
Qalima’s, Quls, Darood Shareef etc in vertical, horizontal,
and circular formats bespeak of a trained hand — yet her art
education has been in the western construct.
Casual attendance of classes at the Pakistan Art Institute,
Karachi, during her high schooldays in the mid ’70s
familiarised her with the basics of drawing and painting and
her understanding, personal expression, and later, a
teaching stint at a school, were confined only to the
rudiments of western art academics.
Born of mixed parentage, she spent a considerable number of
years in Europe and returned to Pakistan just over a decade
ago, in 1996, which is when the Arabic script overtook her
Afraid of air travel, Malik always carries a small copy of
the Quran with her. Recounting the epiphany that transformed
her life she says, “Alone in London sitting at a table doing
nothing I was staring vacantly at the Quran, and suddenly
just began flipping through the pages with the understanding
that I wanted to write.” For a year she wrote profusely but
randomly with no specific track in mind.
Today Malik, still passionately devoted to the rendering of
the Islamic script, is moving in several directions, even
though she can barely read or completely comprehend the
gravity of the meanings hidden in the verses. Working in the
aura of wonder and awe she feels for the written word and is
ever desirous of beautifying it and enriching it to a
jewelled brilliance. She describes the working experience as
a gentle calming exercise that engages her mind for hours on
Other than the very act of constructing the Arabic alphabet
as per her own design format, it is the sharpness and
strength as well as the rhythmic nuances of her lines that
are noteworthy. Unlike the static square kufic, her writing
veers towards the cursive scripts in Islamic Calligraphy and
her self-patterned writing, ‘tughras’ and fancy formations
also have flowing contours.
While her calligraphies on paper are in coloured inks she
works best in a palette of red, gold and blue. Currently she
is experimenting with gold leaf (twenty four carat gold) and
lapis for the deep blue so characteristic of the magnificent
Before she became completely devoted to calligraphy, Malik was giving her time
to a venture in antique furniture, at an outlet by the name
of ‘Kathi’ in an upscale shopping mall. Many years spent in
long drawn trips to areas like Mitthi, Badin and Thatta to
forage for authentic antique doors, wooden ceilings, chests,
jharokas and other old world bric-a-brac from the havelis of
feudal landlords and rural gentry in interior Sindh, has
acquainted her with the finer points of the art of
woodcraft. Her residence, which doubles as a studio/workshop
and warehouse, is almost a trove of wooden artifacts.
At any given time, at least three to four artisans are at
work there, restoring and remodeling the pieces as per her
instructions. Calligraphy in inks on paper is her primary
interest but now she has her scripts carved on antique wood
panels, ‘rehels,’ table tops, chests, wall hangings, and in
the round on circular objects like vases, urns, bowls and
candle stands as well as embroidered in ‘marori and zardozi’
current trends of mixed media art like installation and
assemblage which purport a western ethos, Malik through an
artist/artisan interaction, is bringing about an indigenous
art-craft merger. She is utilizing authentic traditional
specimens of craftsmanship that speak of a heritage one can
take pride in and reinventing them as contemporary objects
d’ art. Here she draws inspiration from the rich history of
Islamic visual art that contains some of the finest
specimens of calligraphy inscribed, chiseled, carved, woven
and painted on a host of media like metal, glass, porcelain,
fabric, parchment and papyrus.
Keenly attuned to beautifying the written word, Malik is
also looking into other arts and crafts as novel sources of
ornamentation and embellishment.
reason to organize this event at Quaid-i-Azam House Museum
was to emphasize the importance of this national heritage
and to create awareness among people of Karachi. April 30
Exhibition of calligraphy on paper and wood carving
'Treasures of Islamic art' by Ruheena Malik opened at the
Alhamra Art Gallery on July 9 2008.
Punjab Governor Salman Taseer inaugurated the exhibition
while Political Officer US Consulate in Lahore Bryan D Hunt
was the guest of honour.
Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Sherry Rehman
Thursday inaugurated the calligraphic exhibition comprising
as many as 50 calligraphic pieces. A large number of art
lovers attended the inaugural ceremony titled ‘Treasures of
Islamic Art’ here at National Art Gallery. In her brief talk
with journalists, Sherry Rehman highlighted government’s
commitment to institutionalizing and promoting Pakistani
culture, talent, and creativity September 18, 2008.