Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kufi Squares in Makkah

The Clock Tower in Makkah is nearing final completion.

It is at the crown of the Abraj Al Bait towers

There are Kufi Squares in the panels besides the front clock face.

One is a square on the bottom and a long elongated rectangle on top.

From the Haram as you tawaf, the kufi squares are hardly noticeable.

However upon closer inspection you can clearly make out the Kufi squares.

The diameter of the clock face is about 43m making these probably the largest Kufi Square in the world.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pair of Kufi Squares in Masjid Nabawi, Madinah

Photos taken by Mohd Nazree Abu Bakar in June 2011

In Raudah area.

Identification of verses by Adrin Pandurama, 12 June 2011

Photos taken by Mohd Nazree Abu Bakar in June 2011

In Raudah area.

Identification of verses by Adrin Pandurama, 12 June 2011

A KUFI at Mihrab in Masjid Nabawi

Alhamdulillah, with His Will, I have cracked the KUFI!
This from Surah Al-Ahzab 33:40
ما كان محمد أبا أحد من رجالكم ولكن رسول الله وخاتم النبيين وكان الله بكل شيء عليما
Muhammad is not the father of (any) one of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah and last of the Prophets. And ever is Allah, of all things, Knowing.
Bukanlah Nabi Muhammad itu (dengan sebab ada anak angkatnya) menjadi bapa yang sebenar bagi seseorang lelaki dari kamu, tetapi ia adalah Rasul Allah dan kesudahan segala Nabi-Nabi. Dan ingatlah Allah adalah Maha Mengetahui akan tiap-tiap sesuatu.

A KUFI at Mihrab in Masjid Nabawi

128. لَقَدْ جَاءَكُمْ رَسُولٌ مِنْ أَنْفُسِكُمْ عَزِيزٌ عَلَيْهِ مَا عَنِتُّمْ حَرِيصٌ عَلَيْكُمْ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَرَءُوفٌ رَحِيمٌ
Laqad jaakum rasoolun min anfusikum AAazeezun AAalayhi ma AAanittum hareesun AAalaykum bialmumineena raoofun raheemun

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Crafted to last

Crafted to last

Article in The Star newspaper

April 2010

Sunday April 11, 2010

Crafted to last


A pen-maker combines technology and aesthetics to produce creations that one dreams of owning.

FANCY a Swiss company that started out making pencils producing a pen that costs 1mil (RM4.3mil).

The Caran d’Ache 1010 Diamonds has 850 of those precious stones individually cut and set into the pen’s body by master jewellers to maximise brilliant light reflections.

What about the 1010?

Shukor Yahya with one of his Arabic Kufi paintings entitled 24. AlThalak: 2-3, a Quranic verse.

“All advertisements for watches always show the time at 10 minutes past 10. That’s why we have different 1010 collections,” explains Angelo Ponzetta, Asia Pacific president at Caran d’Ache’s Japanese subsidiary.

And that’s precisely the convergence the company is touting – fine watch-making, fine jewellery and fine writing as part of Swiss craftsmanship. Even the decorative theme of gear wheels on the 1010 Collection alludes to watches.

Amidst all the sparkle and dazzle, it can almost be forgotten that the 1010 Diamonds is actually a fountain pen with a piston pump made from white gold and a nib in 18-carat rhodium-plated gold. It was showcased at BaselWorld 2010, a renowned annual international watchmaking and jewellery show in Basel, Switzerland, recently.

Humble roots

In 1924, Arnold Schweitzer established the Caran d’Ache Swiss Pencil Factory, taking its name from the French caricaturist and comics creator Emmanuel Poiré, who signed his work Caran d’Ache, a French transliteration of “karandash” (Russian word for pencil).

The ¤1mil pen: The 1010 Diamonds is embedded with 850 diamonds.

“Everybody in Switzerland knows our name because as schoolchildren, we all used Caran d’Ache colour pencils,” Philippe de Korodi, the newly appointed company CEO says over a meaty Swiss-German dinner in Basel.

According to the website (, the company launched the world’s first water soluble colour pencils in the early 1930s, then diversified into ballpoint pens in 1953. Its first fountain pen, the Madison, was launched in 1970.

It claims to be “the world’s only Swiss manufacturer of pencils, fine arts products and writing instruments”, all designed, developed and manufactured in Thonex, near Geneva, and sold worldwide.

While it may not have a great deal of historical pedigree in pen-making, Caran d’Ache has witnessed a swift rise in this area in recent years.

“We are producing works by hand and these are fixed (high) costs,” Ponzetta explains. “If we were to make plastic pens we could not compete with Asian manufacturers. So 15 years ago, we decided to go into the luxury market, focussing on fine craftsmanship.”

He estimates that Mont Blanc has about 48% of the pen market, and the rest is shared among other luxury names, including Caran d’Ache. “It’s taken time to build our brand, but our strategy is very clear, to be the top exclusive brand in pens.”

Drawing analogies from the watch market, he likens Mont Blanc pens to Rolex, and sees his brand as the Patek Phillippe of pens. “Not everybody can afford one but it should be a dream to own one,” he says.

Korodi underlines that the great Swiss manufacturing tradition is about working with passion and rigour.

“The combination of technology and aesthetic appeal has reaffirmed Caran d’Ache’s positioning as Maison de Haute Ecriture (House of High Writing),” he says.

Its brand-building lifted off in the 1990s with various high-end collections, including the Modernista Diamants, which entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1999 as the most expensive fountain pen in the world. It was selling at “merely” RM968,719 then – a figure now more than quadrupled with the 1010 Diamonds (which, by the way, is still available).

The Kufi Art Limited Edition pen.

A little more down-to-earth is what Angelo calls the company’s first pen created for the Islamic market, the Kufi Art Limited Edition, which retails at a (relatively) modest 2,000 (RM8,500). This is inscribed with square Arabic Kufi script designed by Malaysian artist Shukor Yahya.

“There are seven major types of Arabic scripts but Kufi was the one used to transcribe the Prophet Muhammad’s divine revelations,” says the artist.

There are many variations of Kufi. Shukor’s manager, Richard Abas, explains that the square form of Kufi emerged in the 13th and 14th centuries (during the Mongol era) when the Muslim world had more contact with China, which had the square seal script (a square chop used on documents).

Emblazoned in golden lacquer on the pen’s hexagonal body (made of solid, black ebony wood) are what look like square patterns, but are actually Arabic lines which declare:

Art is the ultimate expression of the human soul.

It tells of tales long past and dreams yet to be realised.

Shukor worked in graphic design and branding for 21 years in the Malaysian advertising industry. He was the former art director at Ted Bates before leaving in 1998 to become a painter as he was “tired of being treated like a slave” to people who tried to dictate to him.

“In advertising agencies, we used to party a lot,” he recalls. “Then I was showered with divine light in 1997. Nowadays I only go for art show openings. I also travel overseas regularly, for both business and missionary work.”

On his part, Abas is keen to emphasise the possibilities of Kufi and shows me what looks like a maze of different colours.

“It’s actually the Negaraku,” he says, smiling. “Kufi writing does not have to be Islamic, it can also be used, say, for a company logo, a Chinese New Year card or to write Satu Malaysia.”

For the Chinese market, another pen unveiled at BaselWorld is the Phoenix Limited Edition, which is graced with symbols of the mythological bird and topped with a citrine gemstone to usher in positive energies. (The solid gold version retails for 35,000 or RM150,000.)

The Phoenix and Kufi Art editions should be available in Malaysia soon.

Ponzetta says that Caran d’Ache remains a relatively small family-owned company. “We prefer to expand step by step.”

Hence the company has been opening boutiques in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia only in recent years.

“These will reinforce our after-sales service as we provide a lifetime guarantee on our writing instruments,” Korodi says.

He adds that the KL boutique, opened three years ago, was chosen to be the first in South-East Asia due to the “expounding growth” of connoisseurs and collectors in Malaysia. “We believe there are many wealthy people in South-East Asia who are interested in our pens,” says Ponzetta.

“Three years ago, we introduced a Limited Edition 1010 rhodium series, of which there were 10 pieces in solid gold. It was over 200,000 Swiss Francs (RM595,000). Three were sold in Hong Kong and one, Malaysia.”

Caran d’Ache also produces custom-made pens. “One was ordered by the fourth wife of Macao casino billionaire Stanley Ho for his 70th birthday.”

Ponzetta stresses that Caran d’Ache pens are meant for a lifetime. Or even lifetimes.

“It’s not like a plastic pen which you use and throw. It’s something to be given as an heirloom to sons and daughters.

“Our pens are unique. It’s about expressing yourself personally. Even if kings had the same pen, your writing would still be different. It’s not just a pen, it’s a piece of art.”

CARAN d'ACHE Kufi Art Limited Edition pen

Launched at Baselworld in Switzerland in March 2010.

Now available in Malaysia.

Caran d'Ache boutique in Bangsar Village 2, Kuala Lumpur.


Kufi Art Limited Edition

in praise of oriental calligraphy

Caran d'Ache pays tribute to the ancient art of Arab calligraphy with Kufi Art, a Limited Edition that shows both oriental and modern influences, created in collaboration with the artist and designer, Shukor Yahya. This exceptional Limited Edition is available in two versions: Silver-plated, rhodium—coated and gold-plated. 101 fountain pens and 101 roller pens are produced in each version, a number that reflects the binary logic at the heart of the construction and complex symbolism of Kufi calligraphy. The noble ebony of the body is engraved with Kufi Art and the signature of the artist. Each carefully written word is hand coated in a lacquer whose rich golden or silver reflections echo the colouring of Byzantine art.

101 fountain pens

101 roller pens


Ebony body

Silver-plated edition

  • Engravings coated special lacquer with silver reflections
  • Silver-plated and rhodium-coated attributes
  • Rhodium-coated 18 carat gold nib in 6 widths : M, B, F, EF, OM, OB

Gold-plated edition :

  • Engravings coated in a s lacquer with deep golden reflections
  • Gold-plated attributs
  • 18 carat gold nib in 6 widths : M, B, F, EF, OM, OB

Fire Starter #2 - Kufi Square - Richard Azlan Abas

A six minute video.

November 2010.

Thank you to the Firestarter team for the invite and video!

Mounir fatmi Modern times Kufi squares buildings

2009-2010, videos, sound, saw blades in steel.
Exhibition view from Told, Untold, Retold, Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha
Les Temps Modernes, Une Histoire de la Machine I Modern Times, A History of the Machine

During a visit to the "told ,untold , retold" exhibition at the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha I chanced upon an installation by Mounir Fatmi.

His images of a city skyline are projected on a wall. The buildings are outlined against a dark background. The buildings are Kufi squares!

The exhibition runs from 30 Dec 2010 until 28 May 2011 at the exhibition hall , museum of islamic art grounds in Doha, Qatar.

Photography is not allowed in the exhibition and I have copied these images from the artist website.

“Modern Times” envelops the viewer. In the middle of the room a sculptural ensemble forms a delicate yet menacing centrepiece. A series of circular band saws, displaying Arabic calligraphy, are suspended, reminiscent of a system of cogs or a gear mechanism. Images projected on the wall around the sculpture show architectural construction in the Middle East, creating an intense cinematic environment. The title of the piece “Modern Times” is inspired by Charlie Chaplin's
celebrated 1936 film, in which Chaplin plays a lowly worker on a factory production line. The modernity of the factory's machines are visually characterised by a series of whirring cogs. Comic scenes show Chaplin being consumed by the machine; but these images suggest a darker side – the
alienation of man in a modern industrialised society. The factory worker is swallowed up by the machine with which he can no longer keep up.

In his “Modern Times”, mounir fatmi engages with this modernity, which began in the 19th century in the West. The speed of industrialisation and the growth of cities is reflected today in the rapid development and urbanisation of the Middle East. Cities are appearing out of the desert, with buildings thrown up so fast that there is no time to reflect on the changes. This mental link between Western industrialisation and recent Eastern development manifests itself in “Modern Times” in the interactions between the different elements of the installation.

The cog-like circular blades are decorated with Arabic calligraphy, a recurring motif in mounir fatmi's work. In “Modern Times”, the calligraphy is cut out of the metal like a stencil, instead of being inscribed onto the blades. The negative space allows an interaction between the blades and
projections and creates a layer of ambiguity, with the curves and arabesques of the calligraphy eclipsing the meaning of the words, as if the message were disappearing into the engine of the machine. The words are reanimated in a purely visual way as circular abstract forms, reflecting the
circular motion of the installation.

The circular forms are also a nod to modernist painters Sonia and Robert Delauney and Fernand Léger. The repetition of circular and geometric forms in their paintings were an attempt to depict the modern world, as mounir fatmi's installation is a way of grappling with the continuous and
seemingly endless motion of 21st century production and consumption.

Speed and motion both play an important role in “Modern Times”. As early Arab astronomers observed the movement of stars and planets, mounir fatmi observes the shape of today's world and the, often erratic, motion of global contemporary society. The dizzying effect of the installation also draws on the legacy of Marcel Duchamp and his “Rotoreliefs”. Duchamp's spinning circular optical illusions were amongst the first manifestations of kinetic art, produced in the context of a modern industrial society. Almost a century later “Modern Times” continues this exploration of movement in the modern world, with the added complexity of a global dimension and the dialogue between East and West.

mounir fatmi's oeuvre has often displayed a fraught relationship to architecture, addressing the dystopic effects of the modernist experiment or arrogant contemporary displays of power and economic might. “Modern Times” explores architecture in the Middle East, raising the question of the human impact of this unrelenting construction machine.
The artist is sympathetic to Chaplin's character, whose slapstick encounter with the factory machine suggests
the human obstacle to a perfectly streamlined, mechanical production. mounir fatmi explains: “I want to be the product that the machine fails, otherwise one will think that the
machine is perfect".

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hajj Certificate with Kufi Squares

Wow, no posts in 2010. Sorry, been busy!

During a recent visit to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar I came across "hajj certificate"

The "Hajj Certificate" has kufi squares.

Given my interest in Kufi Squares and my work with Tabung Haji (Malaysian Hajj Pilgrimage Fund) it was a wonderful combination!

Algerian Dinar has Kufi Square!

During a recent trip to Algiers, Algeria , I changed some Euro for local Algerian Dinars.

Only after a few days did I notice that the currency note had Kufi Squares!

Algerian currency is not freely convertible and a black market above the official rate is about 20 to 30 %.

When you leave Algeria, you cannot exchange your Dinars back to foreign currency!

The Top Kufi Square reads "bank Algiers" and the bottom square reads "X00 Dinar"

This is the first time I know of any currency of any country having a Kufi Square!