The Gallery of African Art (GAFRA) is delighted to present Contemporary Calligraphy, a solo exhibition of works by Hassan Musa, curated by art historian and lecturer Elsbeth Court. Featuring a selection of new and early works on paper and textiles,Contemporary Calligraphy marks the return to the UK of a remarkable African artist.
Hassan Musa's engagement with calligraphy can be traced back to his teen years working on his school's mural newspaper in western Sudan. Now domiciled in France, his style a synthesis of African, occidental and oriental traditions distinguish his oeuvre as truly original. The selection of calligraphy works on show reveals Musa's range of picture making that includes animals and landscapes, as well as cultural and political icons.
Musa's calligraphic drawings are complimented by his textile paintings - large mixed media works in which the designs of the fabric are blended with Musa's own brushwork. The appropriation of classical imagery from western art, which is an ongoing theme in Musa's practice, is particularly visible in this genre. Biblical themes popularised in Renaissance paintings are recreated in Musa's own vein. InThe Good Game III, Musa references the celebrated mural by Delacroix of Jacob wrestling with the Angel. In the biblical narrative, Jacob sustained a broken hip after his night duel with an angel. In Musa's textile version, a footballer is locked in battle with the nameless celestial being. A version of this work was produced for the FIFA 2010 World Cup. The Good Game III is one of several handmade textiles featured.
Contemporary Calligraphy also includes a rarely seen selection of Hassan Musa's mail art spanning some twenty years. These small, paper works are painted, pasted and printed on the envelopes which contained his correspondence by regular mail to friends and colleagues. This ephemeral genre indicates Musa's concern, indeed his philosophy, to take his art beyond the confines of the gallery into the public arena, and along the way to enchant the eye of the postman as well as his recipients. By definition, mail art is mobile and outreaching, what is nowadays termed 'relational art'.
The decorated envelopes demonstrate Musa's talent in combining imagery and text. This essential characteristic of calligraphic art is a consistent feature of his practice over the decades and across genres, whether transforming envelopes, textile or paper. Similarly, themes and motifs can be traced in the artist's choice of subject matter drawn from western art history, current events, Arabic culture and his everyday life. Musa's biting wit comes into play through his brilliant juxtaposition of the diverse sources from which he projects his unique expressive identity. Indeed, Musa's mail art is an intriguing counterpoint to his larger works and publications.