How an Italian artist uncovered her muse in Arabic calligraphy

Italian artist Antonella Leoni speaks with good enthusiasm as she describes her will work on papyrus hanging on the walls of her Cairo condominium.

She points to one particular of her favourites: the Buraq, a heavenly creature in Islamic tradition that transported Prophet Mohammed during his Al Isra Wa Al Miraj journey from Makkah to Jerusalem.

The Quranic verse referring to the party is inscribed on 7 traces, concluding with: “He on your own is all-listening to, all-seeing”.

The artwork is signed with her identify in Arabic and 1441, the Islamic calendar year that corresponds to 2019.

A person can feel a type of solution in the perfection of the calligraphy, in that kind of art

Artist Antonella Leoni

While Leoni is neither a Muslim nor a indigenous Arabic speaker, she says the aesthetic attractiveness of Islamic art and calligraphy led her to delve deeper into the subject matter, discover the language and rework that awareness into her have creations.

“One can sense a sort of top secret in the perfection of the calligraphy, in that sort of art — a secret that is a feeling that you want to find out additional,” Leoni, 63, tells The Nationwide. “It’s a attractive journey.”

She incorporates Quran, Hadith and poetry in her artworks, 10 of which highlighted at the Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial in Oct. She also gave a communicate at the American University in Dubai around the same time, entitled Earthly Embodiments of Non secular Realities.

Above the very last couple of many years, Leoni has participated in exhibitions in Belgium, France, Italy and Kuwait, in addition to shows in Cairo.

This 12 months, she has been invited to screen her get the job done in Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Italy.


Leoni, who has lived in Cairo with her Italian husband given that 2015, is from a tiny town in northern Italy referred to as Roccabianca.

“I’ve constantly been extremely fond of artwork, but basically my everyday living introduced me to a different area,” she states.

Her father wanted an accountant in the loved ones business enterprise, so she studied accounting and put in 15 decades operating in the occupation. Just after she married, her husband’s banking vocation led them to Singapore, London and at some point Cairo.

She visited art galleries and museums, falling in love with Asian and Islamic art.

She pursued her enthusiasm in London, earning a postgraduate diploma in Asian art and the arts of the Islamic globe from Royal Holloway, element of College of London, and the British Museum in 2003.

I want to study Sufism, I want to discover Quran, I want to learn Islamic philosophy, I want to find out astronomy. You can invest all of your lifestyle mastering

Antonella Leoni

“During my continue to be in London, I received extremely passionate about the Arabic language and all the art of the Islamic environment — calligraphy, ornamentation, the architecture, the ceramics,” she suggests. “I didn’t know one particular day I was coming to Cairo.”

In parallel, Leoni honed her craft, studying the art of China painting beneath the late American porcelain artist Stephen Hayes and finding out several creative tactics.

When she moved to Egypt, she expanded her training even more, attending workshops and the yearly Cairo Global Biennale for Arabic Calligraphy at the city’s Opera Property.

She learnt colloquial Arabic by an intense yr-extensive programme and analyzed at the public Academia El Khat El Araby (Arabic Calligraphy Academy) in Bab El Louq in downtown Cairo. Following four a long time, she received a diploma in the artwork of Arabic calligraphy and ornaments from the oldest Egyptian faculty devoted to this discipline, the Khalil Agha.

“I believe I am the only non-Muslim who has carried out this,” she states. “They ended up both surprised and extremely welcoming. Of study course, also curious, as to what I was performing there.”

Exclusive artistic process

With her newly acquired understanding foundation, Leoni developed a distinctive artistic method for her artwork, inspired by both equally the Islamic and Pharaonic cultures.

She commences with a substantial sheet of papyrus measuring two to 4 metres and then works by using a method identified as marbling to create a track record sample. Colors are floated on water and very carefully transferred to the papyrus.

The figures that arise from the papyrus usually sort the basis for her ideas, rather than the other way around.

Some of her paintings include things like only a handful of Arabic letters, these kinds of as “Alef Lam Meem”, the 3 letters that start off the Surah Al Bakara (The Cow) in the Quran and whose that means keep on being a mystery.

“I assimilate myself like a boy or girl who’s understanding – from a seem to the initially letter, from a letter to phrases. So these isolated letters symbolise for me a finding out course of action, not only in calligraphy, but also in knowledge the deepest which means of calligraphy,” she claims.

Other artwork parts include things like the 99 names of Allah or the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, such as: “If you do not see Him, He sees you”.

The writings of the 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi are also portion of her repertoire. A person poem reads: “If you want the moon, do not hide at evening. If you want a rose, do not run from the thorns. If you want appreciate, do not conceal from yourself.”

Leoni held her very first solo exhibition at Odyssey Gallery in Cairo in November 2021 and is now doing the job on a e book that will notify the tales at the rear of 30 of her art pieces.

“Each painting is pretty mystical. There’s like a flavour of spirituality,” she suggests. “It’s a depiction of a thing that opens your mind to considerably more … I want to discover Sufism, I want to understand the Quran, I want to find out Islamic philosophy, I want to find out astronomy. There is so a lot. You can devote all of your everyday living studying.”

Most persons have been supportive of her initiatives and have not questioned why a foreigner became intrigued with a language and faith that is not her very own.

“I was not a Muslim since I was born in another country … but it’s not vital, mainly because we’re talking about oneness,” she suggests. “There are no borders. If you’re really in love with God, there is no division.”

Up to date: February 05, 2023, 9:34 AM