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Islam Aly


Photo courtesy of the artist

Questions generated by Spring 2017 Scripps College Art 137 seminar class. 


With various different formats of presenting art, what drew you to create this piece in the form of an artist's book? How do you think the format of an artist's book best explores/examines race and identity?

The narrative aspect of artist's books intrigues me with its various potentialities. You can create a story, and direct the audience to a message. When the viewer turns pages and sections, they reach a climax which is an experience that is not offered in many other mediums.

The intimacy of the book form makes it ideal to explores race and identity. In my work, the contrast between the historic form and the contemporary content makes addressing race and identity striking and yet cohesive.

Who is your intended audience? How do you think people that speak/read English/Arabic will interact with your text differently? How would you like your audience to interact with your work? 

I always think about what the audience will gain from my work. Sometimes I am inspired by the aesthetics of the calligraphy and type more than about the meaning.  The aesthetics cause the book to become an experience for the viewers whether they speak/read Arabic or not. The bindings encourage the viewers to interact with the book, to touch and feel the pages, this direct visual and tactile experience with the binding structures, materials, and content make the pieces more approachable. Even without words, these books are still engaging.

I am hoping that the audience interacts with my work with different senses, they see or read the text and images, they touch the paper, they hear the turning of the pages. It is a full sensual experience. I want the audience to learn that particular book structures existed in different parts and cultures, but can still be used in book art. 

How are the central themes/messages of your work relevant to contemporary issues?How did you consider the relationship between different cultures? How does this affect the form and content of your work?

I believe in finding meaningful ways to use book arts in themes such as equity, freedom, and social justice. I am interested in the connections and contrasts between cultures, For example, the similarities and differences between English and Arabic languages, writing, pronunciation, letterforms, and typography. Besides, I explore talismans, rituals, and spirituality. I think by presenting these concepts, I am fostering cultural understanding, and connecting communities, which are concepts that we need to embrace and promote. The content I use in my books will foster cross-cultural learning by making viewers learn about a different culture.

Regarding 28 Letters, why repeat each letter before moving on to the next?

Each letter is duplicated to transform into a pattern in which one-half is a mirror image of the other. I am repeating a calligraphic style named Muthanna (Arabic for "doubled") to show the letters beauty.

 Is the audience supposed to be able to read the letters? 

Anyone who knows Arabic will be able to read the letters, but even if the audience don't recognize Arabic, they will appreciate its proportions, balance, and relationships. 

Why are the letters burned in (or at least look that way)?Why is each letter “bound”? 

The letters are burned because the cutting is produced using a laser beam that leaves a trace of yellowish color on the edges of the handmade paper.

What is the significance of having 2 leaves were letter?

 Having two letters is replicating the Arabic calligraphy tradition of showings the letter's elegance.  

How did you bind the book in the original binding of Islamic culture? In other words, what was your process and why choose a binding as your main feature of original Islamic culture?

I regard book forms as a culturally-rich format that holds significant meaning. I am interested in making models of strictly historical structures but incorporating contemporary content with those forms. For example, in 28 Letters the structure itself is a record of cultural connections.  The extended accordion or concertina was used in Islamic bindings, but it was originally developed in China. The paper was created using a western style technique. Finally, the Arabic Calligraphy was produced using modern technology. I consider this interplay between cultures, techniques, and materials a fascinating aspect in book arts.

Why was it important to you to use such an intricate style of binding?

The extended accordion or concertina allows viewers to "play" with the book so even if they did not read the Arabic letters,  they could still interact with the book as a movable and sculptural piece. The audience will see new relationships that result from opening and turning the folios of the book.





Islam Aly