• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 7665

    International Modern and Contemporary Art

    30 April 2008, Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel

  • Lot 70

    Ahmed Moustafa (Egyptian, b. 1943)

    Meditation on Three Themes From Sura Ya' Sin

    Price Realised  


    Ahmed Moustafa (Egyptian, b. 1943)
    Meditation on Three Themes From Sura Ya' Sin
    oil and watercolour on 638gsm rag paper, triptcyh
    each panel 46 x 46in. (117 x 117cm.); overall 46 x 138in. (117 x 351cm.)
    Painted in 2006 (3)

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Meditations on Three Themes from Sura Ya' Sin
    Sura 36 of the Qur'an which carries the title Ya' Sin has always been considered particularly holy. The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have affirmed its special status in one of his sayings (hadith) when he declared that 'all things have a heart, and the heart of the Qur'an is Ya' Sin'. It was with these words in mind that the artist Ahmed Moustafa embarked on the quest which led to the composition of his Meditations.
    The sura derives its name from the two Arabic letters Ya' and Sin with which it begins. Similar letter-symbols appear at the beginning of about one quarter of the Qur'an's 114 suras, and their mysterious significance has perplexed commentators from the earliest times. As the artist reflected on the matter his attention was drawn to the proportional relationship indicated by the two letters. According to the numerical value attached to the 28 Arabic letters, Ya' equals ten and Sin equals sixty, hence the ratio between them is 1:6.
    Having realised this, it became apparent to him that this ratio is the same as that between any side of the cube and the cube itself. Consequently he began to see in these two letters a hint at the Ka'bah, the sanctuary in Mecca whose name actually means 'cube' and whose imprint resides at the heart of every believer. This discovery caused him to fathom the depth of the sura so as to excavate six cardinal themes that would mirror the six planes of the cube. The themes he found are 1. The Revelation, 2. The Origination, 3. The Divine Decree, 4. The Truthful Promise, 5. The Source of Peace and 6. The Return to the Source.
    A peculiar feature of the cube is that no more than three of its sides can be seen at any one time. Accordingly, what Moustafa presents us with here are pictorial Meditations on the first three of the six themes. Each is based on a selection of verses from the sura which are cited in translation elsewhere in this article. In the paintings the text is presented to the viewer in two forms of writing which are both derived from the most classical and traditional canons. One, known as square kufic, consists only of straight lines and angles whereas the other is a cursive style with numerous loops and curves; one is massive and rigid, the other graceful and pliant.
    In each of the Mediations, the two types of writing are superimposed to create a striking contrast between monumental stillness and frenetic movement which confronts the viewer with order and chaos at once. The dynamic effect is heightened by the small writing which shines through from the background and adorns many of the letter shapes with ripple-like patterns. The large cursive writing in the foreground swarms with detached Arabic letter shapes whose pronouncedly sinuous features supplement the orchestral effect of the composition in chorus-like fashion. Last but not least, there is the vital vocabulary of colours which accentuates the overall coherence of the works by ensuring that the various visual components are, despite their profoundly contrasting shapes and forms, gathered into a harmonious whole.
    While the three works are entirely composed of layers of writing, their aesthetic appreciation does not depend on the ability to decipher it. Through the deliberately chosen design of the artist, the physical outlines of the letters, their abstract shapes as such, bear testimony to unuttered meaning whose range and depth each viewer will experience differently. As a result, these forms in motion and stillness, suffused in oceans of colour, are open to a multitude of interpretations. Every shape, however small, relates to numerous others by similarity or opposition in form, colour or meaning and as such can form a centre around which the rest of the work revolves. With a limited visual vocabulary - the 28 Arabic letters - the artist thus creates a virtually limitless range of associations which invite the eye to ever new exploration. The riches are such that numerous details could be enlarged to form independent compositions in their own right. Underlying them all, however, resides the text which has inspired these Meditations: the words of revelation whose heart is Sura Ya' Sin.
    (Dr. Stefan Sperl, School of Oriental and African Studies London, 2008)

    1 - The Revelation
    Square Kufic text:
    "... by [virtue of] what is being bestowed from on high by the Almighty, the Dispenser of Grace" (verse 5)
    Cursive style script composition:
    "IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE. O THOU human being! (1) Consider this Qur'an full of wisdom: (2) verily, thou art indeed one of God's message-bearers, (3) pursuing a straight way (4) by [virtue of] what is being bestowed from on high by the Almighty, the Dispenser of Grace, (5) [bestowed upon thee] so that thou mayest warn people whose forefathers had not been warned, and who therefore are unaware [of the meaning of right and wrong]. (6) Indeed, the word [of God's condemnation] is bound to come true against most of them: for they will not believe. (7) Behold, around their necks We have put shackles, reaching up to their chins, so that their heads are forced up. (8)"
    2 The Originator
    Square Kufic text:
    "... who has brought me into being, and to whom you all will be brought back" (verse 22)
    Cursive style script composition:
    "[As for me,] why should I not worship Him who has brought me into being, and to whom you all will be brought back? (22) Should I take to worshipping [other] deities beside Him? [But then,] if the Most Gracious should will that harm befall me, their intercession could not in the least avail me, nor could they save me: (23) and so, behold, I would have indeed, most obviously, lost myself in error! (24) "Verily, [O my people,] in the Sustainer of you all have I come to believe: listen, then, to me!" (25) [And] he was told, "[Thou shalt] enter paradise!" - [whereupon] he exclaimed: ?Would that my people knew (26) how my Sustainer has forgiven me [the sins of my past], and has placed me among the honoured ones!" (27)"
    3. - The Divine Decree
    Square Kufic text:
    "... [and] that is laid down by the will of the Almighty, the All-Knowing" (verse 38)
    Cursive style script composition:
    "And [they have a sign in] the sun: it runs in an orbit of its own - [and] that is laid down by the will of the Almighty, the All-Knowing; (38) and [in] the moon, for which We have determined phases [which it must traverse] till it becomes like an old date-stalk, dried-up and curved: (39) [and] neither may the sun overtake the moon, nor can the night usurp the time of day, since all of them float through space [in accordance with Our laws]. (40)
    And [it ought to be] a sign for them that We bear their offspring [over the seas] in laden ships, (41)"