Inspired by the Qur’anAl-Rabahi: An untrained artist [Archives:2007/1098/Culture]

October 25 2007

Hamed Thabet
Artist Ahmed Al-Rabahi recently was nominated by the Ministry of Culture to represent Yemen at the 14th International Exhibition of the Qur'an held in the Iranian capital of Tehran during Ramadan. Yemen Times reporter Hamed Thabet interviews the artist.

Al-Rabahi, who has never studied fine arts, has adopted in his wall paintings Qur'anic words with rich meaning and connotations of great works, building and overlapping colors and words in consecutive blocks and lines of tortuous successive formations reflecting the vision of fine art and philosophy emanating from the heart of the universe.

He says the idea occurred to him during his daily reading of the Qur'an, which caused him to absorb more of what was written. “All of my paintings of the stars, the sunset, the dawn and many other things related to nature are from the Qur'an. Because I was a tour guide for 15 years, I had time to look closely at God's creation in this world and the miraculous nature of the Qur'an.

“The objective is to reflect on the details of the universe around us that says, 'Almighty, by creating the skies and the earth and the alternating of night and day, these are signs for men to understand' and 'God is almighty and truthful.'”

According to him, there are 130 of his paintings at Beit Al-Thaqafa Museum in Sana'a. Al-Rabahi participated in his first academic class in 2003, first writing the Qur'an on 30 to 40 pages and through subsequent practice, writing it on 15 pages, then 12, then seven, six, five, four, three, two and finally, one page.

His most recent work was writing the entire Qur'an on one page, using Qur'anic words and phrases and like “There's no god but Allah,” “Thanks be to Allah” and “In the name of Allah the merciful,” outlining the new forms of some characters with simplicity and clarity.

This recent painting depicts Allah's majesty written in a new style with many secrets and was be displayed at the exhibition. His entire body of work took seven years to complete, owing to writing in such small lines.

During those seven years, the talented Yemeni says there were no huge difficulties, except for financial problems because he wasn't working. “I sometimes faced insolvency, but Allah helped me and money came to me to continue my work. I also had some eye problems because I was writing such small lines, as well as backache for sitting at least five hours a day from early morning to 10:30 a.m. and then from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. I've now been given support by the Ministry of Culture and mobile GSM company MTN.”

Al-Rabahi notes that when he faced insolvency or financial difficulties, he sold some of his paintings to friends but to no one else. “I did this because I had no other choice. Instead of asking my friends for money, it was better to sell some of my paintings,” he explains.

Al-Rabahi vows to continue what he has started until his dying day. He's also planning to come out with another style of art that will have the same idea and spirit of portraying the Qur'an's meaning.

“My message of peace must reach the whole world. Being nominated by the Ministry of Culture to represent Yemen at the 14th International Exhibition of the Qur'an was very important to me, as this was just the beginning. The last painting is simply the path to the next one. This exhibition, which was held Sept. 27 through the end of Ramadan, will be a starting point for me to other exhibitions.”

Al-Rabahi uses no special pens or paper for his paintings. “All of my materials are available for anyone. I use size 3-4 or size 5 pens and write on cheap paper that anyone can afford. Additionally, I don't use any type of visual aids while writing because doing this type of writing for seven years has made my eyes accustomed to small lines.”

These days, the artist says he's working on other paintings with the same meaning, but in different styles. He hopes to send his message to the world, telling them the Qur'an's peaceful message.

In this regard, “I received an invitation from a Kuwaiti artist to exhibit there, which I'll do after this exhibition, and I'll soon go to Switzerland and Germany to participate in their exhibitions.”

He adds, “I'm also dreaming of creating a project to spread literacy among children that says, 'Read what the most generous Lord taught by the pen, Allah, the almighty and truthful.'”

Al-Rabahi studied pharmacy in Germany before completing political science studies at Sana'a University. While working as a tour guide, he quit and began reading the Qur'an. At first, he was just reading and delving deeply into its meaning, but “Later on, I started to write and I've been doing that for about seven years now.

“To be honest, I'm not an artist, so there's no artistic memoir. All of my achievements are a result of loving and reading the Qur'an, scrutiny and worship. While I was reading, I realized its importance and started writing it down on regular paper, subsequently writing it on better paper.

“I've never studied art or anything in that field, so this is why I wish critics and specialists would tell me what type of art this is. As I said, I have no idea about art or those things related to it, so if anyone would do that for me, I would be grateful,” he concluded.