First Dubai Calligraphy Biennale takes the art form beyond the page

The month-long event will showcase work by more than 200 local and international calligraphers and artists

The Dubai Calligraphy Biennale is on at the Etihad Museum throughout October. Photo: Dubai Culture
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The UAE’s first Dubai Calligraphy Biennale has begun, and is running in different locations across the city until the end of the month.

The biennial is running until October 31 with the works of more than 200 local and international calligraphers and artists on show through city-wide exhibitions and activities in art galleries, public spaces and libraries.

Featuring 19 exhibitions across Dubai, with a range of artists from various disciplines, languages and mediums, the Dubai Calligraphy Biennale was opened to the public by Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairperson of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and Member of the Dubai Council, at the International Arabic Calligraphy Exhibition at Etihad Museum.

Running as part of the biennial is also the 11th iteration of the International Arabic Calligraphy Exhibition, displaying more than 75 works by 50 calligraphers from 17 nationalities. The exhibition is a reflection of the diversity, vision and direction of the rest of the biennial that is taking place over the next month.

“It's a historic moment, being the first biennial in Dubai,” Kamla Alolama, project manager at Dubai Culture and curator of two exhibitions at the Dubai Calligraphy Biennale, tells The National.

“The International Arabic Calligraphy Exhibition has now expanded to encompass more languages, more mediums and more disciplines. So it's a very inclusive biennial that has expanded exponentially.”

One of the aims of the biennial is to shed light on the cultural and historical significance of calligraphy along with its diversity and relevance as an evolving art form and a rich source of inspiration for all creatives.

“People think calligraphy is just an ancient art form but what we're trying to illustrate in some of the exhibitions is that it's valid today,” Alolama says.

One of the exhibitions that Alolama curated in Al Safa Art and Design Library is entitled Adorned by Calligraphy. It pays homage to calligraphy as an inspirational art form that has been translated in various ways through textile, fashion, jewellery design and more.

Alolama says the exhibition illustrates the numerous ways calligraphy has been used as aesthetic inspiration for art and design. Some of the pieces on show are inspired by the form of letters in calligraphy, creating motifs and patterns. Others illustrate how calligraphy can be used to express a sense of self or identity as Arabs, and Emiratis specifically. A third way calligraphy is explored is through the power of words – poetry and sentiments are expressed through the use of the art form in different pieces.

Other exhibitions running during the biennial include Classical Calligraphy Exhibition at The Cultural and Scientific Association, which explores the connection of letters through various classical Arabic scripts.

Unwritten, Unspoken & Told at The Foundry in Downtown explores the human relationship with language. Meanwhile, Calligraphy Redefined: A Perspective in Play at AWC Dubai in DIFC, looks at calligraphy’s versatility through the interaction of words and movement.

Aside from existing as works of arts in their own right, many of the exhibitions throughout the biennial showcase a connection to the traditional art form and also include a strong educational component. This can be seen within the context of exhibitions and through the number of workshops available to the public.

“The Dubai Calligraphy Biennale does not only contain exhibitions, it also has programming and talent development components,” Alolama says.

“It's not just about showcasing but it's also about making sure that education is a component that we sustain as well.”

Educating the public through the biennial means shifting their assumption of what calligraphy is and can be.

Through Adorned by Calligraphy and Alolama’s other exhibition entitled Transmedial Exhibition at Al Jalila Cultural Centre for Children, calligraphy can be seen as something that lives beyond the page.

Transmedial Exhibition showcases work and includes workshops illustrating the versatility of calligraphy and how it exists in other mediums such as ceramics, metal works and pieces carved out of wood and glass.

“We do hope that the Dubai Calligraphy Biennale is educational and also sheds light on different aspects of calligraphy,” Alolama says.

“We also hope it inspires more artists to engage with calligraphy, to learn, to attend the workshops and talks and panels, and be inspired by calligraphy as an art form and see that it doesn't only exist in ink and paper. It's everywhere and it can be inspiration for all of us.”

The Dubai Calligraphy Biennale will be running across the city until 31 October. More information on exhibitions and workshops is available at

Updated: October 04, 2023, 7:06 AM