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Academic: Ali Omar Ermes

Academic: Ali Omar Ermes

Ali Omar Ermes (Arabic:علي عمر الرميص) is an internationally renowned artist, writer, and speaker as well as a community activist; but above all, he is a thinker who never restricts his objective to one precinct [Mary Richardson, ‘The alphabet of Ali Omar Ermes’, Arts & The Islamic World, 1988] [ [http://www.zawya.com/story.cfm/sidZAWYA20031029050241 "Ali Omar Ermes In Context"] , "Zawya"] [Fuad Nahdi, 'Conversation with Ali Omar Ermes’, Q News, No. 302 & 303, 13 March 1999] Having spent a period in Libya during which he wrote constantly and published in Arabic, he continues to write on various issues in both Arabic and English, but today his primary focus is on conference papers. Ermes delivers speeches at national and international conferences, in locations ranging from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt, as well as at the VIII Conference ‘European Culture’ in Pamplona, Spain. In his art, articles, ideas and speeches, he addresses a variety of social and cultural issues, including identity, language, education, art, media and community. In addition, he serves as chair of the [http://www.almanaar.org.uk Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre] in Kensington, London, inaugurated by HRH the Prince of Wales in May 2001.


Born in Libya in 1945, Ali Omar Ermes travelled to England to further his education; he earned his diploma in design at the Plymouth School of art and design in 1970 and later attended the Central School of Art in London for a short period. On his return to Libya, he wrote extensively and headed the visual arts section of All Arts magazine. In 1974 he was contracted to work as the visual arts consultant to the festival director for the World of Islam Festival (1976), preparing for exhibitions on Islamic art and culture and meeting artists and calligraphers, museum directors and various intellectuals across the Muslim world. He worked for a few years writing and researching, travelling frequently, on different artistic and publishing projects until 1981, when he decided to move to England where he lives today with his family. Over the years, Ermes has participated in various Muslim community projects, written about many important issues and has exhibited in some sixty to seventy exhibitions around the world. [‘A lifetime of painting’, Venetia Porter, Q News No: 302 & 303, London, 01 March 1999]

Ali Omar Ermes is a writer and a speaker who has published numerous articles in English and Arabic newspapers and magazines, among them Q News and [http://www.alquds.co.uk/ Al Quds Al Arabi], although today he mainly prepares papers for presentation at conferences. Ermes has spoken at national and international conferences on a variety of social and cultural issues. A selection of his papers includes: ‘Art and Islam’ (‘Mutualities: Britain and Islam’ conference, Royal Commonwealth Society, London, April 1999), ‘Contemporary Islamic arts: a positive contribution to London’ (‘The Middle East in London’ conference, SOAS, June 2001); ‘A glimpse of Islamic heritage’ (‘Islam UK’, the BBC’s Islam Season, SOAS, September 2001), ‘The invisibility of the Arab community’ ( [http://www.londoncivicforum.org.uk/ London Civic Forum] , March 2002); ‘The importance of faith-based education for the Muslim community’ (‘Faith in the UK and Development Education’ seminar organised by the [http://www.dea.org.uk/ Development Education Association] , London, March 2003), ‘The Arabic language as a national cultural issue’ (‘Better Arabic Calligraphy’ conference, Calligraphy Centre, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt, July 2004); ‘The Arab media in Britain’ (‘Domination, Expression and Liberation in the Middle East’ conference, [http://www.lmei.soas.ac.uk/ London Middle East Institute] , School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, July 2004); ‘Culture beyond stereotype: an artist’s experience’ (Islam and Arts’ conference, Oldham, November 2004); ‘Multi-Cultural Europe – The Muslim perspective’, VIII conference, ‘European culture’, University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, October 2005); ‘Plural identity and European citizenship’ (European Parliament, Brussels, November 2007).

Community activities

Ermes participates in various social and cultural activities and endeavours. He is the chairman of the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre (MCHC) in the Kensington and Chelsea Borough, London, formally inaugurated by HRH the Prince of Wales in May 2001. The MCHC provides a wide range of social, cultural and educational training as well as religious facilities to people in North Kensington, London and the surrounding areas. . [ [http://www.almanaar.org.uk/profile/governance.cfm "Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre profile"] ]

He has also served on the executive board of the London Civic Forum, an organisation that engages the capital’s civil society in the regional governance of London. Ermes is the co-founder and was the co-chairman, of the Forum of Faiths in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Ermes' opinions

As a thinker, Ali Omar Ermes has remained true to his Arab and Muslim/humanitarian roots, deriving his opinions on issues such as identity, art, culture and life from Islamic teachings and traditions. He has written and spoken about many topics, voicing his thoughts on issues as varied as education, media and language.

Concerning today’s world and the relationship between politics and the media, Ermes explains, “We live in a global village, where instant communications make new inroads on our consciousness from moment to moment. But we are faced with shifting priorities in the media which, at any given moment, may not reflect the true state of affairs.” He continues, “Just because we are faced with a flood day and night of sound bites, it doesn’t mean that we are getting any closer to the solution.” [Reaching Out, edited by Sajid Rizvi, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1993] . On the issue of the environment, Ermes cautions that “even more alarming is the indiscriminate exploitation of the Earth’s resources. The ecological disaster that we have invited upon ourselves shows how short-sighted we are. At the rate at which that is being done, man is exhausting not only the available resources but also the options.” [Reaching Out, edited by Sajid Rizvi, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1993]

Muslims in Europe or European Muslims?

On the question of identity, an issue that is at the centre of many current debates, especially with regards to European Muslims, Ali Omar Ermes observes that “many European Muslims feel they have to be more European than the average, standardising their perspective on life and assimilating their characteristics in order to minimise unfair rejection found in some sectors of the society”. [‘Plural identity and European Citizenship’ speech, European Parliament, Brussels, November 2007] He believes, however, that “it serves in Europe’s favour for Muslims to bring their originality and ethnicity, instead of hypocritically erasing their individuality, values and heritage”. Ermes asserts firmly that the “plural identity is the only identity”. [‘Plural identity and European Citizenship’ speech, European Parliament, Brussels, November 2007]

To highlight the complexity and commonality of the European identity between Europe and Muslims, in his speech at the University of Navarra, Pamplona, Ermes uses modern Spain as an example [‘Multi-Cultural Europe – The Muslim perspective’, VIII conference, ‘European culture’, University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, October 2005] :

“Take a group of modern Spaniards; they might be from the North, East, middle, West or deep South. If you dig up their roots and look at their family trees, they most probably unveil like this: They are descendants of a mix of Visigoths, Franks, Normans, Vandals, Alans, Suevs and Celts coming from the North and East, in addition to Phoenicians, Greeks, Iberians, Arabs, Berbers, Carthaginians and Romans coming from the South and East. Their forefathers were pagans, whose descendants most probably became Greek mythologists, the next generation became law-abiding Romans, some converted or remained Jewish, a number of the later generation became Christians, Catholics and non-Catholics. After Islam came to Spain, a sizeable number of them became Muslims, and a few centuries later the Spanish Inquisition took place which persuaded some back to Catholicism. A few generations after that and with the rise of ideological conflicts in Europe, many followed various branches of anarchism, communism and nationalism, a number of those were led to become [agnostic] and atheistic and finally many of them hurried to enter the materialistic paradise of the consumer society to enjoy all fruits of the open market, and all other markets coupled with globalisation.
Quite a journey for one example of modern-day Europeans, when we have been led to believe that coming from Europe meant a pure homogenous race believing in the pure Christian religion with pure northern values and cultures. The question is, what identity can you give this group of people? And what identity will they be able to give themselves?”

In another speech, he makes observes that European Muslims are in a bit of a Catch 22 situation, “on the one hand, to highlight your plurality of identity, being a British, French, Arab Muslim or a German Turkish Muslim etc, you are accused of not being European enough. And on the other hand, when European Muslims claim Europe as their home, they get accused of taking over the place!” [‘Plural identity and European Citizenship’ speech, European Parliament, Brussels, November 2007]

He is a firm believer in the Islamic universality of citizenship, which, he argues, is one of the reasons the Islamic culture is a “culture beyond stereotype”, since “there is no cultural or racial dominance to base assumptions on”. He also observes that “stereotyping is an expression of defeat” [‘Culture beyond stereotype: an artist’s experience’, Islam and Arts Conference, November 2004, UK]. Ermes concludes that “the point the European public seems to have missed is, being a better Muslim means being a better European citizen. Not only does Islam require a person to respect the laws and customs of the country they reside in, the moral code instilled in a Muslim is that of a caring citizen, which requires them to belong to the society, appreciate its values, acknowledge its norms and criticise its ills for the benefit of themselves and society at large.” [‘Plural identity and European Citizenship’ speech, European Parliament, Brussels, November 2007]

Positive contributions of the Muslim presence in Europe

The Muslim contribution to European civilisation during the Islamic Golden Age is only recently beginning to gain the recognition it deserves. Furthermore, Ermes posits that today’s European Muslims have played a vital role in shaping the continent. These contributions are many, historical, cultural, financial and social. However, to take the Muslim economic contribution in Britain, home to approximately two million Muslims, as an example, the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, cites ‘a new estimate of 10,000 Muslim millionaires in Britain and an overall community contribution of £31 billion a year to the economy’. [ [http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/08/population.islam "Officials think UK's Muslim population has risen to 2m"] , "The Guardian"] Going above and beyond all of the contributions to culture, diversity, food, fashion etc., Ermes explains some of the less obvious benefits, at a conference held in the European Parliament: [‘Plural identity and European Citizenship’ speech, European Parliament, Brussels, November 2007]

*Muslims in Europe are the key to a billion-and-a-half-member market of Muslims worldwide. Their familiarity and observed characteristics provide a primer on how to deal with/understand/trade with/interact with other Muslims around the world.

*Muslim’s determination to join others in upholding morality, and at times they lead the resistance against unethical and corruptive aspects within societies. Not everybody accepts or appreciates this; there are many that benefit from the degradation of morals and ethics. And when Western Muslims raise the stakes regarding what is good and moral out of care and concern for their society, some interested parties will use it negatively, which adds to the misunderstanding and even hatred towards Muslims.

*Some Muslims not born in Europe hail from countries that have restricted the press, and they, therefore, place extreme importance on the notion of free speech and media, making Muslims in Europe probably more media aware than the average European citizen.

* Muslims are strong believers in the system, so much so that they are able to criticize it; being at home in Europe means speaking out against things you feel are wrong.

Art as a bridge

Ali Omar Ermes "is an internationally renowned artist, one of the most gifted contemporary Islamic artists of today and probably the most collected artist in the Islamic world." [ [http://www.zawya.com/story.cfm/sidZAWYA20031029050241 "Ali Omar Ermes In Context"], "Zawya"] He is a painter who uses the Arabic script, with all its rich multitude of literature and it’s an ever-evolving visual expression, as the subject of his compositions. His distinctive technique places the Islamic and Arabic identity in a contemporary light, by involving it in an accumulative but new form of expression. His work has been said to bring dynamism and vitality to the world of Islamic art and has been described as “a bridge between the divide of cultures and languages”, as Dr James Allen of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, concluded. [Reaching Out, edited by Sajid Rizvi, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1993]

“As an artist, I am in a constant search, a ceaseless movement to broaden the means of my artistic and poetic expression and stretch the frontiers of my art and writing. I want all the different instruments of my art, from colour to movement to poetry, with its rhythm and resonance, to develop further, to attain greater power of expression. I hope these aspirations are accessible to everybody and hospitable to other cultures, other ideas, alongside my own. This would bring me the greatest joy.” Ali Omar Ermes [‘Visual Dimensions of Literature’ in “Inscribing Meaning”, 5 Continents Editions, 2007]
Art consultant Dale Egee confirms the realisation of these aspirations “Ali Omar leaves a legacy, he has brought the beauty of Arabic calligraphy to all of us in the non-Arab world, and we are the richer for that.” [‘Ali Omar Ermes in Context: Modern Islamic Art’, Art Advisory Associates Ltd, 1st Edition, October 2003]

Recent exhibitions

His most recent showings include works on display at the State Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia (November 2007); the Meem Gallery, Dubai (January 2007 and April 2008); the University of California, Los Angeles Fowler Museum, USA (October 2007/8); the Ghaf Art Gallery, Abu Dhabi (April 2007); the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, USA (May 2007); the Dar Al-Funoon Gallery, Kuwait (March 2008); the British Museum’s ‘Word into Art’, London and Dubai (2006 and 2008); Tate Britain’s ‘East-West: Objects Between Cultures’ (September 2006/7) and DIFC, Dubai (March 2008) as well as in Sotheby’s and Christies auctions in London and Dubai.

Selected exhibitors

Ali Omar Ermes’ work has been shown in approximately seventy solo or group exhibitions worldwide, and his work can be found in both private and public collections, among them:

*The British Museum, London, UK
*The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK
*The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C., USA
*Tate Britain, London, UK
*The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia
* [http://www.wereldmuseum.nl/ The Wereld Museum] , Rotterdam, Holland
* [http://www.nationalgallery.org The National Gallery of Jordon] , Amman, Jordan
* [http://www.meem.ae/ The Meem Gallery] , Dubai
*The Dar Al-Funoon Gallery, Kuwait
*Art Advisory Associates - Charles Pocock, London
*Maybank Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
*Muslim Development Bank, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
*The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, USA
* [http://www.ghafgallery.com The Ghaf Art Gallery] , Abu Dhabi
*Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, London, UK
*King Fahad International Airport, Saudi Arabia
*Mobil Oil, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
*Collection of the British government, 10 Downing Street, London, UK
*Investcorp, Bahrain]
*The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., USA
*H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Dubai
*United Engineers, Malaysia
*The Prince’s Trust, London, UK
*The State Museum of Oriental art, Moscow, Russia
*Malaysia Airlines, Malaysia
*The Royal Collection of the Sultanate of Oman
*The Royal Abjad Hotel, Dubai, UAE
*Le Groupement, Geneva, Switzerland
*The Hope and Optimism Portfolio, Oxford, UK
* [http://www.beitalquran.com Beit Al Quran] , Bahrain
* [http://www.arabheritage.com.sa/ The Arab Heritage Gallery] , Khobar, Saudi Arabia
*The American Embassies in Bahrain, Riyadh and Dacca
*The Momtaz Gallery, London, UK
*The Kufa Gallery, London, UK
*Uniteers Outdoor Advertising and Maybank, Malaysia
*The Libyan Department of Culture, Tripoli, Libya
*The Study of Islam Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
*Saudi Aramco Company, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
* [http://www.alsabahcollection.com The Al-Sabah Collection] , The Kuwait National Museum, Kuwait City, Kuwait
*The M. Kano Collection, UAE
*The Sheikh K. Al-Turki Collection
*The Bank for International Development, Tokyo, Japan

Ali Omar Ermes' Art

Ermes’ paintings are composed of script-style text and abstracts and range from approximately 1 m square to 3 m square and larger. His work embodies the traditional Arabic love of literature through stunning spontaneous images of various calligraphic letterforms. He places his subject matter against a rich abstract background (and, at times, mono-colour) deriving from it a rich heritage of Andalusia, North African and Middle Eastern Arabic and Islamic cultures. His paintings have been credited in highlighting the beauty and elegance of the Arabic letterforms. [‘A lifetime of painting’, “Art and Ideas”, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1991] He states: “Beauty is the marriage of intellectual vision and moral foundation, of commitment to principles and performances conforming to the highest standards of technical excellence.” [‘Visual Dimensions of Literature’ in “Inscribing Meaning”, 5 Continents Editions, 2007]

Ermes delights in shape and colour and has traditional, deep-rooted respect for detail. His talent as a photographer adds an extra disciplined approach to his technique. The text by itself is a device which triggers a sense of shape, colour, space and musicality of images. Through his combination of text, the colours, the forms, the sense of space and rhythm results in a powerful array of visual and musical compositions. Ermes describes how he arrived at his technique, “The way I use the colour and brushwork in my paintings is, I believe, the result of an audacious exploration of avenues and by crossing borders usually closed in the education of art.” [“Reaching”>Reaching Out, edited by Sajid Rizvi, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1993]

The background to most of his artwork is a harmonious mixture of colours and textual inscriptions taken from Arabic classical poetry, prose, traditions and proverbial sayings, generally containing strong, often political, messages about justice, honour, wisdom and humanitarian issues. His references are various aspects of the rich Islamic living heritage and cultures as well as the various strands of human experience. As Faisal Rafique, MCB Direct, remarks, “He is an artist with a unique gift; the ability to merge paint and prose. His work is original, vibrant, striking and intricate.” [ [http://www.mcb.org.uk/features/features.php?ann_id=165 "Ali Omar Ermes Exhibition"] , "MCB Direct"]

“The fusion of Arabic and Islamic art and literature were like two entities evolving together: poetry lending its powers in an abstract visual form and abstract art manifesting all elements of poetry’s music and mood in its visual code.” Ali Omar Ermes [‘Visual Dimensions of Literature’ in “Inscribing Meaning”, 5 Continents Editions, 2007]
The titles of his paintings all indicate pathways towards a common purpose. “‘Iqra!’” (‘Read!’), “‘The Power of Expression’” and “‘Narrative Stream’” are just three of his ‘liquid’ works. “These wonderful paintings have many stories to tell and the stark beauty of the single letter at the heart of the composition transcends all boundaries.” Venetia Porter, British Museum. [‘A lifetime of painting’, “Art and Ideas”, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1991]

Connection, or ‘silah’

One element of Ali Omar Ermes’ composition is that of connection, or ‘silah’, between the various dynamics at play – between art and poetry, colour and rhyme, past and present, East and West, the continuity of the human experience, links to other civilisations, reaching out to his audience. Bringing to light human issues, from various Islamic references, regarding how humans should treat each other with kindness and generosity and give consideration to all human pains and ills. “Thus art reflects life for Ermes, a Libyan Muslim living in London, providing a new synthesis of East and West. This is precisely what he strives for in his paintings, reaching towards a sense of value which is no longer tied to cultural or personal norms, an art that speaks directly to the human heart.” Stephen Hirtenstein, Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society, Oxford [ ‘The painting speaks’ in “Ali Omar Ermes”, Art Advisory Associates Ltd, 1st Edition, 2008]

Arabic and Islamic poetry

A poet himself, Ali Omar Ermes interweaves the wisdom and beauty of expression of early Arabic poetry into his compositions. “At times the poetic lines are concise, ordered and almost incidental to the letter, at others they swirl around the contours of the letters like crowds acclaiming their hero” Stephen Hirtenstein, Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society, Oxford. [ ‘The painting speaks’ in “Ali Omar Ermes”, Art Advisory Associates Ltd, 1st Edition, 2008] His favourite poets are many, among them the pre-Islamic literary pioneer Zubair Ibn Abi-Sulma (early seventh-century AD) and Sala’a bin Amr (late sixth-century AD), a pre-Islamic poet who was famous during his lifetime for his eloquence as an orator; he believed that a stable society can result only from good consultative government by a noble elite. Many outstanding Islamic poets include Abu Firas Al-Hamadani (d. 323 AH/935 AD), a Hamadani prince and poet imprisoned by the Byzantines, who wrote tremendous diatribes against his capturers and expressed the Arab ideal of chivalry and the importance of honour and dignity. Of even greater impact on Ermes are the great poets Abu Al Tayyib Al-Mutanabbi (965 AC), who is known as the most quoted poet, and Abul Ala Al-Ma`arri, the philosopher, who, among other Arab and Muslim thinkers, brought issues of the human condition to the forefront of the thinking of the day. Turning to modern times, the two great contemporary poets Ahmed Shawqi and Al-Jawahiri are among his favourites. “Poetry absorbed in abstract art, and abstract art using poetry’s music and mood – this is the essence of Ali Omar Ermes’ art. This artistic expression, which uses the Arabic script as a form of subject matter, has become uniquely his own.” Francisca Voo, New Straits Times [Francisca Voo, ‘Language of Arab poets in Ermes’ art’, New Straits Times, 1993]

Reviving interest in the Arabic language

One of the main aims of Ali Omar Ermes’ artwork is to stir the curiosity of his audience by encouraging them to look beyond his paintings to the source of his inspiration and thereby realise the greatness of Arabic literature and philosophy. His paintings pay homage to the rich content of the Arabic language and aim to keep alive traditional stories of wise reflections. [‘A lifetime of painting’, “Art and Ideas”, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1991] “One of my ultimate objectives is to revive interest in Arabic, a language that has contributed so much to the progress and evolution of science, literature, arts and moral values of the world.” [‘Visual Dimensions of Literature’ in “Inscribing Meaning”, 5 Continents Editions, 2007] On another occasion, Ermes explained that “some may see the Arabic element of paintings as introducing a sense of mystery but it’s not a mystery, it’s an invitation for any inquisitive mind to go deeper into aspects of Islamic culture and history.” [Reaching Out, edited by Sajid Rizvi, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1993]

“To enjoy an exhibition of his work is rather like embarking on a crash-course of ancient Arabic poets, and you’ll probably come away wanting to discover more.” Arsalan Mohammad, Time Out [Arsalan Mohammad, Time Out, 25 January 2007]
Ali Omar Ermes’ thoughts on art

It is Ermes’ belief that the origins of abstract art stem from the very nature of Islam. He asks, “What is meant by abstractionism today? Somehow it’s got linked to modern western art but abstraction is a very Islamic idea.” He expands this point further, “I do question, both in spiritual and materialistic terms, the value of most work of replication of what is already there, beautifully made by the All-Mighty Allah.” [Reaching Out, edited by Sajid Rizvi, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1993] “Therefore, the aims of Islamic art are not mimicking what is there already, which the artist can only distort, in a way, through his/her own vision. Based on this philosophy, Muslims turned to creating art all around them, from the carpets they walked on, to the ceramics they drank from, adding the geometric designs that we all know. The advent of Islam led to a total beautification of surroundings, using their creative forces as human beings to start a new artistic phase.” [“Art and Ideas”, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1993] Ermes proceeds with a definition, “Art in Islam is an ongoing process of creativity based on theoretical knowledge and practical know-how in all areas of human endeavour and walks of life. It is the power to grasp, to hold, to imagine and dream to which God All-Mighty gave to humanity in dealing with this creation. To enjoy, behold and take part in order for it to work together in harmony and contrast.” [‘Visual Dimensions of Literature’ in “Inscribing Meaning”, 5 Continents Editions, 2007]

Ermes also observes how the consumption of cheap ideas has taken hold of many contemporary art productions which “make few demands on the human intellect or the human spirit”. And he puts forward an alternative in the form of Islamic art, “because throughout this period of upheaval on the world art scene, we have played by the rules of human behaviour and followed the path which gives art its necessary moral backbone. As for the ‘million-dollar trash’ so prevalent in the art world these days, Ermes bids ‘good luck to those who produce it and those who buy it. Fortunes may change hands, but what are we left with for posterity? What does this do for the spiritual well-being of mankind?” [Reaching Out, edited by Sajid Rizvi, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1993]

Art as a responsibility

Ali Omar Ermes explains his distinctive philosophy of how Islamic art is best interpreted. “For modern Islamic art to leave an impression at all on posterity, the Muslim artists need to do more than create pretty pictures. They need to identify themselves with the most positive aspects of human endeavour and to bring themselves to the level of Islamic thinking where it concerns morality and discipline and awareness of man’s duties towards nature and towards each other.” He continues, “It does not matter if contemporary societies fail initially to see the moral thrust and social responsibility of Islamic art. Not for the first time are Muslim artists and intellectuals facing difficulties and, in certain cases, having to make sacrifices, while holding on to their principles. Most pioneering work has had this problem of lack of acceptance in the beginning and then it has been vindicated.” [Reaching Out, edited by Sajid Rizvi, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1993]

Art in Islam is not without its conditions. “Art in Islam is a responsibility and a very heavy one. This is because the impact on society could be great on the positive or the negative sides. I see an artist as a thinker and pioneer who disciplines himself/herself and channels his/her imagination to create and educate at the same time.” [‘Art and Islam’ speech, ‘Mutualities: Britain and Islam’ conference at the Royal Commonwealth Society in London, April 1999] [Reaching Out, edited by Sajid Rizvi, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1993]

When asked how the issue of injustice relates to the community of art and artists today, Ermes replies that “the artist has two choices. He or she can either be a part of that all-pervasive system of injustice and succumb to the myriad corruptions, falsehoods and enticements that come with it, or he/she can decide to stick to his/her morals and defend his/her integrity and honesty in the best human way possible. Frankly, from an Islamic point of view, that is what art is all about….Thus the way an artist conducts himself or herself determines not only whether he/she is a good citizen of the world or not, but also whether he/she is a good artist. This, at least, is the way I see it.” [Reaching Out, edited by Sajid Rizvi, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1993]

Islamic art today: a mission of revival and positive engagement

For over forty years, Ali Omar Ermes has raised his concerns about the status of Islamic art in the world today. What follows is a list of just a few of the points he has made to identify problems and implement solutions in order to work towards a sustained and authentic revival of Islamic art. Ermes explains, “Take the lack of any presence (or hardly) of Islamic artworks in public places in this country and others for that matter, or their given share of all sorts of budgets and mainstream activities being very minimal and not adequate in proportion to the potential multiple varieties of art produced by this largely talented section of the society. This has to change very rapidly if we want the best of these situations to work for all of us and this concerns most of the public sector with new plans and the right attitude.” [‘Culture beyond stereotype: an artist’s experience’, Islam and Arts Conference, November 2004, UK]

He continues, “Muslim and Islamic Art is being used today and has been for a long time, as a treasure house and as a gold mine without the slightest respect or full acknowledgement of its sources and to which culture it belongs to in most cases. It is being used and abused in so many negative and unjust ways by media, academic establishments and commercial companies alike. This has to be rectified with serious initiatives from the decision-makers on all levels with real plans and solid work in consultation with the right people, i.e., responsible and knowledgeable Muslims that can be in partnership with professional people with the right heart and mind from the mainstream, if we are going to keep the best of human creative treasures intact and to pass its powers of inspiration and stimulation to others for a better future.” [‘Art and Islam’ speech, ‘Mutualities: Britain and Islam’ conference at the Royal Commonwealth Society in London, April 1999]


Ermes outlines the steps necessary to rectify these concerns, some of which are already in effect, some of which are not: [‘Culture beyond stereotype: an artist’s experience’, Islam and Arts Conference, November 2004, UK] [ [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=48 “Conversation with Ali Omar Ermes”] ]

*The funding and encouragement of positive representation and engagement of Islamic art and Muslims.

*Support from Muslims and non-Muslims alike and from the establishment, museums, public galleries, theatres, publishers, organisations, companies, etc.

*Support tailored to Islamic ethos and Muslim understanding.

*The establishment of serious negotiations with educational policy-makers to introduce new, creative and positive ways for a comprehensive curriculum, which takes Islamic ethos and ethics on board, to be taught at all relevant levels of education.

*The inclusion of positive Islamic art, literature, and creative inputs in mainstream systems of education and museums, theatres and media programmes to increase the public’s appreciation for Islamic culture and improve community relations.

*Creation of one central museum of Islamic art in the country, and a few regional ones, according to Islamic ethos to help Muslims and non-Muslims to benefit from Islamic art.

*The integration of charitable and non-charitable institutions and organisations, independently of or in partnership with, mainstream society. To emerge, prosper and engage is one way of reckoning with the Muslims and Muslim culture for the better.

Reaching out

They say that artists are destined to reflect and interpret the world around them, and Ali Omar Ermes is no exception. Ermes believes that an artist has the moral responsibility to create art that draws attention to the injustices in contemporary society. Speaking at the time of the Bosnian tragedy, Ermes says, “If humanity is willing to allow such violent examples of intolerance, as we see today again in Bosnia and elsewhere, the artists among us may as well start carving coffins and gravestones rather than embarking on creative pursuits. If they survive the tragedy themselves, of course.” [Reaching Out, edited by Sajid Rizvi, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1993] He rails against hypocrisy, corruption and inaction of both East and West on critical issues, and these messages come across strongly in his paintings.

“When the artist proceeds to stand by the weak, the oppressed, the environment or by the cause of good behaviour towards other creatures he or she is only fulfilling the most basic of Islamic teachings and thereby performing his or her true role as a citizen of the world as defined by Islam.” [Reaching Out, edited by Sajid Rizvi, Saffron Books/Eastern Art Report, 1993]
Paintings that ‘speak out’

“‘Ayya Dhameer Al Aalam, Ayna Adhameer’” ‘Oh conscience of the world, where is your conscience?’ (2005)

This work is a trio of paintings which debate the status quo of humanity, with emphasis on the Middle East. It questions the unjust wars, invasions and occupations. It features poems by great poets such as Al-Mutanabbi, Al-Imam Al-Shafi, Ibni Lunk Al-Bassary, Ibn Rabeeah Al-Maghzoomi and Abi Hassam Al-Buzzi from the past, and Ahmed Shawqi and Muhammed Mahdi Al-Jawahiri from the present. References are from Al-Hamasah and Al-Yateemat Ed Dahar, Daiwans of Al-Mutannabi Al-Jawahiri and Magmooutal Al-Abyat, etc.

‘Shako Mako?’ ‘What is the matter/What’s happening?’‘Mako Shaye’ ‘Nothing is the matter/Mind your own business’ (2005)

These are two pieces of art which very gently look at what is happening to and in Iraq. The first piece highlights the questions most frequently posed by Iraqis: What is up? What’s going on everybody? Why are we in this mess? Who is really benefiting from these situations? When will this end? All these queries are abstractly put in this simple question. In the second piece, the answer is given – Nothing is the matter, thank you. Or is it? This is reflected by the choice of the bright colours which Ermes has used for these two pieces to depict the irony of the question and answer. And who can answer for Iraq? The questions are still there. With this is a poem by Abu Hatim and a comment wishing all Iraqis a better future. References come from Bahjat El-Majaliss by Al-Imam Abi Bakr El-Nimry Al-Qartubi.

‘Seen Salaam’ (1979)

In this piece, the very well-known poet Hafiz Ibrahim is arguing that knowledge; power and money can be beneficial to the nation only if they are managed well and strictly, with no greed or selfishness. Originally produced in 1979, with additions made in 1992, this artwork is owned by the British government, 10 Downing Street, London, UK.

‘Aaakhin Aakh!’ (1993)

Dr Riad Nourallah (senior lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy of London) describes this artwork well: “In ‘Akh!’ or ‘Aahhh!’ a diptych dedicated to the United Nations, the sense of anguish expressed by the groaning sound of the word, itself cradling in tiny script a moving poem by the artist/poet, seems to accentuate, beyond its immediate historical context and collective concern, the artist’s own agony as he labours to transmute pain into creativity and senselessness into meaning. Nonetheless, as the double-framed picture moves sideways and the funereal black of the aleph, with its roots fanning out into some heart’s core, assumes more density and pointedness, its maddah (sign over the aleph) seems to release a fat drop of black blood and its roots break free, while the kh on the left takes on darker smudges as it comes into contact with the open spaces. Here the cry of anguish is itself transformed beyond an individual’s sense of distress to a wider, universal articulation of grief and desperation, perhaps in parallel with Munch’s ‘The Scream’, that very emblem and herald of our modern anxiety, alienation, and despondency.” [‘Ali Omar Ermes in Context: Modern Islamic Art’, Art Advisory Associates Ltd, 1st Edition, October 2003]

‘La’, ‘Kalla’, ‘Wa Lan’ – ‘No’, ‘Never’, Ever’ (2003)

This work is a trio of paintings featuring samples of poetry which reject domination by big powers as much as they reject acts of terrorism by individuals, states or invading armies and condemn corruption, environmental and cultural abuses. The lines of poetry express, some in general and some in specific terms that we are all in this together. Humanity is not able to run away from itself, and if all want to live in peace and harmony, we need to face the facts and the people and systems that are behind all of the injustice in the world. We need to be honest and reject hypocrisy and double standards and say to everyone: implement justice in the world, this way you gain peace on earth and with it honour and satisfaction. These paintings belong to a private collector.

‘Meem, Tha, Alif – Turaath’ ‘Heritage’ (1993)

We inherit what we inherit to appreciate and to look after it, thus enabling our heritage to reach the next generations. The poem is by the Abbasid poet Abu Al-Ataahiah, who tells us that “that which really belongs to you is what you are able to spend on good causes, not what you consume and liquidate or leave behind”. This artwork was sold at a Christie's auction in Dubai in 2007 and now resides in the collection of a private collector in Qatar. ‘La’, ‘Na’am’ and ‘Lakin’ – ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and But’ (1993)

This trio of works is a commentary, says Ermes, on the double-talk and chicanery that dominate world politics. They are in the collection of a private collector in the Gulf. “The work I love best of Ermes is a triptych, with three words painted in dramatic black and red. They are “No”, “Yes” and “But” in Arabic. It is a commentary on the chicanery of leaders.” Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Guardian [ [http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2000/jan/15/weekend7.weekend1 “Sacred Beauty”] , “The Guardian”, 15th January 2000]

‘Ananah’ ‘Narrative stream’ (1993)

The ‘narrative stream’ refers to the practice of passing ideas and tradition down the line. The abstract imagery of the artwork is complemented by five pieces of poetry ranging in period from the pre-Islamic to contemporary times.

‘Tughra’ – ‘The Sultan's official monogram/signature’ (1993)

This vibrant piece contains a verse from the learned philosopher-poet Abul Ala Al-Ma`arri, in which he says: “When I utter the implausible, I can shout it out loud without fear or favour, but when I speak of the truth I have to whisper at length.” Given the present state of affairs in the world at large, says Ermes, this observation finds a special resonance. This painting is with a private collector in the Middle East.

‘AAAA’ (1992)

‘AAAA’ is a cry through the ages and through the conscience of humankind to commemorate the expulsion, the torture, the torment, the burning of people and books etc., inflicted on Muslims from Spain since 1492. Produced in 1992 to mark the 500-year anniversary and in reference to Bosnia, the artwork is with a private collector in Geneva.

‘The Odes’ (1993)

This group of seven paintings celebrates the ‘Seven odes of Arabic poetry’, “Al-Muallaqat as saba’a”, or ‘Prize Poems’, which enjoy a special place in Arabic literature due to their powerful eloquence and historical relevance. When a poem was judged to be exceptional, it was embroidered in gold on silk cloth and hung at the Kaaba as a sign of general acclaim. Over the years, the Prize Poems which were thus hung at the Ka’aba assumed a universal context and appeal. For example, the Fourth Ode has the full 106-line ode by the pre-Islamic poet Turfah Ibnu Abd who dealt with the issue of woman’s rights. Turfah died young, at the age of 26, but the acclaim awarded his poem placed him in ranking next to the more senior Arab poets. ‘La Tahinn’ ‘Do not allow self-degradation’ (1993)

At a glance, this artwork presents a strong culture, and an array of fresh, pleasant colours handled with ease and splendour. The poems are by Abi Firas Al Hamadani about standing head high, dignified and proud even though the world could be against you. The original artwork was addressed, in 1993, to the suffering people of Bosnia and all sufferers of genocide, prejudice, persecution, injustice, ignorance and indifference, both ancient and modern, East and West. This artwork is owned by a private collector in Saudi Arabia. ‘La Tahzann’ ‘Do not despair’ (1993)

At a glance, this artwork presents an array of fresh, sunny colours handled with ease and splendour. It features poems by Abdul Rahman Al Attawi reiterating that he is firmly adamant that nothing will make him lose heart against hardship nor will he lose sight or be swept away in false glory. The original artwork was addressed, in 1993, to the suffering people of Bosnia and all sufferers of genocide, prejudice, persecution, injustice, ignorance, and indifference, both ancient and modern. ‘Iqra!’ (1991)

The word “iqra” means ‘read’ in Arabic. Poems by Utaybah Ben Hubayrah argue the need to consider the rest of humanity in all aspects of life, as we are all living on one planet Earth, whether we are learning from history or experiencing various ideas or pursuing goals. The work deals with issues of relevance to our time and yet was written more than a thousand years ago. Its principal point is that people should consider all aspects of life and circumstance when they are making a decision, especially when they are dealing with others. Reference: Al Bayan wa Attabyeen by Al Jahiz and Qawlun Ala Qawel by Hassan El Karmi. The original artwork is in the IIAC Collection, Malaysia.

‘Ahaje Juha’ (2003)

Juha was and still is a very important figure in Arabic literature (mainly the verbal literature), and Juha was a name for Dujain ibn Thabit in the early days of Islamic civil society (approximately 1,350 years ago) with a very rich collection of humour expressed contradicted forms of wisdom and foolish or unpredictable material, all of which make a sounding point of view towards people, politics and behaviour of the society in all its endeavours. But Juha did not stop here, one man thought he was in the beginning, and other people who have exceptional talent like that of the original Juha have been added during Arab and Islamic societies throughout history; among them Al Khawaja Nusserudin (a Turk), etc. The influence then moved to European countries, Italy, Germany, Spain and others, until it came to England, where we now have the expression ‘Jokes’ which came from ‘Etalian Jokha’, derived from the Arabic Juha – the reader is encouraged to research this point. The references are plenty in the early European Renaissance. The artwork belongs to a private collector in Kuwait.

‘Al ‘Adl’ and ‘Al-Salaam’ ‘Justice and peace’ (1993)

These two paintings explore the theme of the correlation between justice and peace; the work says “‘implement justice in the world, you will get peace on earth’”. These paintings have been purchased by a private collector in the Gulf.

‘Al-Itqan’ (2001)

This painting features as its central motif the Arabic noun “Al Itqan” (‘towards perfection’). The artist believes that if one chooses to stress an idea, one must strive to do it well. The theme finds expression in the artist’s use of extracts on the pursuit of excellence from the eminent poets Abu Al Tayyib Al Mutanabbi and Abul Ala Al-Ma`arri as well as Ermes’ own expressions. An interpretation of the poems featured in this artwork is as follows: “Excellence is a virtue of faith and a symbol of commitment.” (Ali Omar Ermes 2001) “Excellence is the wisdom in thought and the brilliance in deeds.” (Ali Omar Ermes 2001). “Achievement of great success is the natural result of continuous hard work. It is not realistic to sleep excessively and to dream of big accomplishments. A worthy catch of brilliant pearls can only be obtained by relentless divers.” “To be an excellent scholar of science you need much more than good intentions.” (Abul Ala Al Ma’arri). “While small jobs seem to be difficult in the eyes of the insignificant, huge responsibilities look insignificant in the eyes of great achievers. So much so that the capabilities of great people are tested by immense burdens.” (Abu Al Tayyib Al Mutanabbi 965 AC.) This artwork is in the collection of HRH the Prince of Wales.

‘Contradictions of Joy’ (1993)

The abstract imagery of this work is complemented by a poetical quip that the melody of a songbird, while sweet, can also be fatally overwhelming – in other words, in joy, there is sorrow, too. The artwork is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

‘Ramyaton Khatifah’ (2003)

The artist explains the point of this piece is that the manifestations of the expression were faster to exist than the elements of execution, so it is a hold up between these two opposing sides, in mono-colour full, half and with sensitive degrees of impressions. The poems are from the very rich and well-known reference in Arabic literature, Bahjat Al Majahis by Ibi Abdil Birr Al Qurtobi. The general meaning of the poems is as follows:“The status quo, under what are supposed to be the judges, the advocates, the patrons of the unjust state of the world today, can only be bad news for all these perpetrators from the absolute owner, judge, patron and maker of all.” This piece was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in October 2007 in London. ‘Crossfire’ (1993)

This series of four paintings (‘leaves’) deals with the theme of environment and man’s abuse of nature. There is a commentary by Ermes on each one which roughly translates as this: “The very thin line which distinguishes between the overuse and abuse of the Earth’s resources puts the whole of mankind in the situation of someone caught in a crossfire while traversing a minefield. Either way, the outcome can be catastrophic unless one is able to weave one’s way through the twin dangers with caution and foresight. In the global scenario, that means reverting to the path of justice, of which there is so little in evidence these days.” One artwork is titled ‘Midas-Modern’, after King Midas in Greek mythology, who had the ability to turn everything he touched into gold, and who later discovered that such a gift was to his detriment. In this piece, Ermes draws parallels between this concept and how humans deal with nature, through their desire to turn everything into profit/gold, “midasing” everything in our path, to the detriment to the Earth, themselves and the rest of humanity. Some of these artworks are in the hands of a private collector.

‘Silah’ (1992)

This artwork conveys a range of bright, powerful colours in yellows, olive greens and related hues, with a busy lively link between foreground and background. The Arabic word “Silah”, when translated into English, has a variety of related meanings including connection, linkage, bond, tie, relation and charity. The word is featured in Arabic and English, with poems in Arabic and English to promote the value of good deeds. The painting includes poetry from several eminent poets of classical Arabic from pre- and early Islamic periods, including Zuhair ibn Abi Sulma, Urwah ebnul Warrd, Ali ebn Abi Talib and Ali ebn Al Rumi. It inspires compelling thoughts about the necessity of giving charity to the right causes, and how this stands as one of Islam’s fundamental aims in creating a kinder society. This artwork was shown in three exhibitions for Oxfam, ‘Art for a fairer world,’ 1992-3, UK.

‘Lam-Alif Libnul Muttazz’ (1987)

This stunning piece displays the power of contrast in colour and the clear-cut ideas shared by the visual and the writing in poetry. The poem featured in this artwork is by Abbassi Amir Ibnal Muttaaz. It reflects the historical state of the Abbassid Caliph in the Amir Al Mu’mineen’s times in the ninth century, in the heart of the Arab lands and Muslim civilisation. The poem engages in a description of the intellectual who, because of his sense of knowledge, experience and expression, could be interpreted like this: “He is able to foresee the future just as if he was there first by the conclusion of reason. Therefore the moment he takes pen to paper, he opens the door of light and the clarity of crystal on whatsoever he is putting his opinion on.” The piece resides with a private collector.

What they say about Ermes’ work

‘Although the paintings which you see here this evening are so strongly rooted in Arabic and Islamic tradition, they are not exclusive or inaccessible: they are cross-cultural frontiers with ease and elegance – they possess the characteristic of universality which is the hallmark of great art.’ Sir Bryan Cartledge, Oxford University [Sir Bryan Cartledge, ‘A Meeting of Minds’, Linacre College, Oxford University, November 1994]
‘It is the bold, unconventional strokes and explorations of colour and texture, as well as unrestricted interpretations of the letterforms – ranging from clean, single “blows” of the brush to abstracted, multi-layered images – that typify his paintings, placing them beyond mere calligraphic works.….And it is the universality of his messages that reaches out to an audience that goes beyond the Islamic world.’ Francisca Voo, New Straits Times [Francisca Voo, ‘Language of Arab poets in Ermes’ art’, New Straits Times, Malaysia, March 1993]
‘An artist at the height of his powers.’ Arsalan Mohammad, Time Out [Arsalan Mohammad, Time Out, 25th January 2007, Dubai]
‘Ali Omar Ermes is the most distinguished of British Muslim artists. His imaginative and highly distinguished works have won him many admirers in the UK and worldwide. A pioneer in his field, Ermes defies any pigeon-holding: he is both painter and writer, a bold adventurer and a cautious scientist.’ Fuad Nahdi Q News [Fuad Nahdi, 'Conversation with Ali Omar Ermes’, Q News, No. 302 & 303, 13th March 1999]
‘Ali Omar Ermes wears many hats: painter, photographer, writer, graphic designer. The contradictions in his nature and talents add a sense of complexity and tension to his work. His is one of the most gifted of contemporary Arab artists, a man to watch.….This is where the contradictions in his abilities and situation begin to appear: As a photographer, he needed to call upon a disciplined and technical approach to his subject. As a painter, he left his inspiration [to] carry him where it would.….His style is distinctive. He is neither a pure calligrapher nor a purely abstract painter, though he borrows from each tradition. All of his best work is centred on calligraphy. He has a typical Arab love of the sweep of the individual letter-forms. However, unlike other painters, he places his letter against a rich textual background.’ Mary Richardson, Arts & The Islamic World [Mary Richardson, ‘The alphabet of Ali Omar Ermes’, Arts & The Islamic World, 1988]
'Ali Omar Ermes is a great calligraphic painter whose work is often cutting. One triptych I love has three words, "No", "Yes" and "But" - his observations on the chicanery of leaders. Discontent creates an edgy spirit and art.' Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent [ [http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/yasmin-alibhai-brown/yasmin-alibhaibrown-beauty-is-not-enough-418843.html "Beauty is not enough"], "The Independent" 6th October 2006] ‘Ali Omar Ermes, a Libyan poet/painter, now living in England, works largely in acrylic on paper, building up a brush-worked background of muted colour onto which are superimposed huge electrically charged Arabic letters, brilliantly executed with brush or sponge, the sweep and verve of them recalling Zen calligraphy where hand, eye and motion are one. Serendipity, accident and action combine to create a flawed but vivid paradigm of life. Perhaps, for us, we lose the impact of the meaning of the letters, but the expression of the emotion, from blue calm to frantic orange is self-evident.’ Christopher Austin, The Edge [Christopher Austin, ‘Signs, traces and calligraphy’, The Edge, November 1995 ]

‘The work of Ali Omar Ermes has its roots in the Muslim Arab culture of the Near East and North Africa and finds its expression in a calligraphic art form that embodies both a specific and ethereal significance, alongside the more explicit decorative effects.….The artist’s brush breaks up a line, different calligraphic styles are used side by side, and also textures or the foreground letters are weaved into their background so tightly that they become a rhythm-like river and almost cease to have a calligraphic identity.….Through his work, a blending of colours, movement, poetry and prose that has a universal appeal, Ali Omar Ermes defines the calligraphic tradition in a contemporary way, thus aiding the process of bringing Islamic art once again into the forefront of artistic expression worldwide.’ Ana Vrlkjan [Ana Vrlkjan, ‘Inspiration’, MiddleEast UK, August 2001]

‘His paintings are something that you can react to as an individual, free to find your own message within them. His use of poetry within his paintings is to be seen as an integral part of the painting as an additional platform for expression, not as calligraphy..….There is no formula to follow when it comes to his work, each one an original piece of inspiration conveying the resplendent artistic nature of the letterform.’ Nancy Morrison, Arabia Online [Nancy Morrison, ‘A glimpse of Islamic heritage’, Arabia Online, September 2001]

‘Ali Omar Ermes is a painter whose work is dedicated to the exploration and expression of Arabic typography and whose work is an accolade to Islam and its identity. Ermes tries to communicate the personality of the Arabic letter in his paintings from all aspects, in terms of sound, shape, and structure. Most of his paintings comprise of Arabic letters and poems that work in accordance with the message that is conveyed. The resulting picture is a graceful artwork committed to the ideal expression of the letter. Colours interact musically within the canvas and are applied in a unique technique of colour mixing and application….Ermes is an accomplished painter with the values of a model Muslim artist. His incredible works mirror his energy and enthusiasm for the celebration of Islam. His paintings are powerful and yet subtle in their form. He is a Muslim who makes you feel proud to be one.’ Zayneb Latif [Zayneb Latif, ‘A model Muslim artist’, The Muslim News, November 2000]
‘The works of painter Ali Omar Ermes have been variously described as unique, informative and thought-provoking.….The uniqueness comes from the mix of art and poetry, often jostling for space within a strip of canvass.….Many of his pieces incorporate great poems in history, apparently scribbled as an afterthought within the greater framework of each work. They are informative in their message and content. Each piece is thought-provoking – relentlessly exhorting the viewer to explore its deeper meaning.’ Abdul Razak Chik, Art Beat [Abdul Razak Chik, ‘Ali Omar’s unique works’, ART BEAT, New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 1993]

‘Libyan Ali Omar Ermes is a painter who stirs the curiosity of his audience to look beyond his paintings to the source of his inspiration and realise the greatness of Arabic literature and philosophy.’ Kharleez Zubin, New Straits Times [Kharleez Zubin, ‘The poet in artist Ermes’, New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 1993]

‘Saar is off to the Sacred Scripts gallery, where she points out another contemporary wall piece, "Qaf 'Al Asmie Tales' " by Ali Omar Ermes... For Saar, the work inspires thoughts about the beauty of written language. "I love the tiny details and how it flows," she says. "It seems so fluid as if it's unplanned. Parts of it are faded, but bright colours pop out. It has an ancient look, but it's also contemporary." Artist Lezley Saar, Los Angeles Times [ [http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jan/01/entertainment/et-saar1 “The work gets very personal for Lezley Saar”], “Los Angeles Times”]
‘The work of the Libyan artist, Ali Omar Ermes, “Letter Kaf: The Power of Expression”, represents a dramatic departure in its scale, treatment and intent….the painting is dominated by the form of a single letter of the Arabic alphabet, the letter “kaf”, or “k”, created with one continuous brush stroke. The composition, which reads more as an undulating abstraction than an actual letter, is notable for its boldness and spontaneity. While evoking the fluidity of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, the single letter, monumentalised and stripped to its most essential form, also echoes the expressiveness of the “New Style” script discussed earlier (Figs. 5 and 6). Perhaps to accentuate the creative tension between the present and the past, Ermes has also included a poem from the 10th century Kitab al-Aghani (Book of Songs) by Abu’l Faraj al-Isfahani. Written in the traditional Maghrebi style, associated with North Africa and Islamic Spain, the script shares the rhythm and energy of the large “kaf”.….Much like Ermes’ “Letter Kaf: The Power of Expression”, the growth of a strong, distinctive identity for the Islamic Near Eastern collections at the Sackler will depend largely on striking a delicate balance between the present and the past: while the primary aim will always be to strengthen the different traditions of the past and build upon the foundations of the Vever collection, the need to show these works of art as part of a dynamic and living tradition is also of paramount importance. It is by considering the ways in which artists have continuously redefined and reinvented their work, responded to new stimuli and influences, and set new aesthetic objectives, whether in 9th century Baghdad, 17th century Isfahan, or 20th century Tripoli, that we can gain a broader understanding and appreciation of the complexity and creativity of the arts of the Islamic world.’ Massumeb Farhad Wash, Oriental Art [Massumeb Farhad Wash, ‘Arts of the Islamic world at the Sackler’, Oriental Art, Vol: XLIII, No.3, Washington DC, USA, November 1997]

‘Amid hues of brown, fawn and ochre, the viewer is treated to subtle leaps of turquoise and lapis lazuli blue, which seem to convey the essence of Islamic interiors. The intermingling of the browns and the blues is only a prelude, however, to the viewer’s experience, for in the foreground of most of Ermes’ multimedia presentations there are large, dramatic and well-hewn letters from the Arabic alphabet – chosen to denote different moods and meanings. The bold central letters are interlaced with poetic inscriptions, neatly controlled yet flowing, sometimes in stark contrast with the softness of the background and sometimes blending in, with the round shapes and curves of the letters weaving into the patterns of the overall picture.….Most of his pictures contain a central letter, which stands out of the background of the picture as a dramatic abstract form. The effect is often three-dimensional and visually stunning. The letters often appear to be detached from the background, suspended in space as a planet or star. In the smaller pictures, the writings seem more involved with the overall design, helping to form the pattern rather than contrasting with it.….He uses gold to highlight or add substance to the central design. The backgrounds are a blend of soft tones, with different shades of blues, pinks and greys, or all the shades of brown, from soft sand to warm tones of wood, or soft sage green and the colours of autumn, speckled with gold. The gold is used sparingly, however, to gently lighten the pastel tones of the background and giving a sense of unity to the picture.….In other paintings, the artist’s use of the varying shades and backgrounds gives the impression that the central image is becoming detached, creating a tension, as though the forces of energy were struggling for control of the picture itself.’ Mary Patrick, Eastern Art Report [ Mary Patrick, ‘Ali Omar Ermes: a fusion of unusual energy’, Eastern Art Report, March 1989]


External links

Arabic articles

* [http://www.asharqalawsat.com/details.asp?section=25&issueno=8858&article=155357&feature=1 Ali Omar Ermes - A link between Art and Literature - Arabic article]
* [http://www.alwasat.com.kw/Default.aspx?pageId=106&MgDid=50271 جماليات الحرف العربي بخلفية ثقافية أصيلة.. غالية الثمن]
* [http://www.annaharkw.com/annahar/Article.aspx?id=55723 انتقال الفنان العربي «علي عمر الرميص» إلى العالمية]
* [http://www.awan.com/node/42197 علي الرميص في دار الفنون: كل حرف هو صورة تجريدية]
* [http://www.alraialaam.com/Templates/frNewsPaperArticleDetail.aspx?npaId=31418 الفنان العالمي الليبي علي الرميص ينادي بالسلام بحروف عربية]
* [http://www.suhuf.net.sa/2001jaz/may/18/t/ln5.htm بحضور شخصيات إسلامية وعدد من السفراءالأمير شارلز افتتح المركز الثقافي الإسلامي بلندن]
* [http://www.aljarida.com/aljarida/Article.aspx?id=50189 علي الرميص يرسم الحروف ويرفض مسخ الطبيعة]
* [http://www.moheet.com/show_news.aspx?nid=98804&pg=21 علي الرميص يصور الكلمة العربية في سياق إنساني]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/publications/files/Quds21Oct.pdf Ali Omar Ermes’ exhibition in Mayfair, London, Arabic article]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/publications/files/Quds11.pdf Ali Omar Ermes and the Arabic Letterform – Arabic article]

Articles by Ali Omar Ermes in Arabic

* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/publications/files/Quds13.pdf The importance of the Arabic Language]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/publications/files/Quds18.pdf Al Arab fil Gharab Part 1]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/publications/files/Quds27Aug.pdf Al Arab fil Gharab Part 2]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/publications/files/Quds9Jan2003.pdf The Arab media Part 1]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/publications/files/Quds10Jan2003.pdf The Arab media Part 2]

English links

* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk Ali Omar Ermes offical website]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/presscoverage.cfm Ali Omar Ermes in the Press]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4511780.stm Laptop link-up: A day at the mosque – MCHC]
* [http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/eastwest/rooms/room25.htm Ali Omar Ermes at the Tate]
* [http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/wordintoart/word-into-art/artists/ermes.html Ali Omar Ermes at the British Museum]
* [http://africa.si.edu/exhibits/move/ermes.html Ali Omar Ermes at the Smithsonian Institute]
* [http://www.ghafgallery.com/ermesinfo.htm Ali Omar Ermes at the Ghaf Gallery, Abu Dhabi]
* [http://www.arabianbusiness.com/index.php?option=com_pressreleases&view=detail&pr_id=2307&Itemid=77&ln=en Globally recognised leading Arab artist – Ali Omar Ermes comes to Dubai]
* [http://www.meem.ae/meem_gall_pressrelease.pdf Ali Omar Ermes at the Meem Gallery, Dubai]
* [http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/04/2007/hm4_1_175.html Ali Omar Ermes at the State Hermitage Museum, Russia]
* [http://www.worldtimelines.org.uk/world/africa/north/AD1800-2000/contemporary_calligraphy Contemporary calligraphy]
* [http://www.zawya.com/story.cfm/sidZAWYA20070201110917 Globally recognised leading Arab Artist - Ali Omar Ermes at Meem Gallery Grand Opening]
* [http://www.lacma.org/islamic_art/ian.htm Islamic Art Now]
* [http://www.mcb.org.uk/features/features.php?ann_id=1045 JINASS – An Exhibition of Works by Ali Omar Ermes 16 – 21 July 2005]
* [http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticleNew.asp?xfile=data/theuae/2007/April/theuae_April714.xml&section=theuae&col= Mixing calligraphy, painting and poetry]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=54 Ali Omar Ermes' exhibition in Dubai]
* [http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/a/ali_omar_ermes,_the_letter_kaf.aspx Ali Omar Ermes and the British Museum - the letter Kaf]
* [http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119282738327065202.html Sotheby's seeks new buyers with a sale of modern Arab and Iranian works]
* [http://www.fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2007/052007/05312007/285448 Exhibit Explores relationship between Art and Language - 'Inscribing Meaning']
* [http://www.mcb.org.uk/features/features.php?ann_id=165 Ali Omar Ermes: Exhibition]
* [http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/199702/letter.word.art.htm Letter, Word, Art]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=4 A Glimpse of Islamic Heritage]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=7 A Model Muslim Artist]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=44 Communicating through calligraphy]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=16 A Lifetime of painting]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=13 Ali Omar Ermes: a living legend among artists]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=11 Language of Arab poets in Ermes' Art]
* [http://www.kingston.ac.uk/~ku15905/BM/paper03/paper03.htm Collecting Now]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=9 Ali Omar's Unique Works]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=14 The poet in artist Ermes]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=19 Ali Omar Ermes: Painting the Word]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=6 Ali Omar Ermes: A Fusion of Unusual Energy]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=36 The Alphabet of Ali Omar Ermes]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=21 Calligraphy with an international appeal]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=17 Ali Ermes, Man of Letters]
* [http://www.aliomarermes.co.uk/press/view_citation.cfm?press_id=5 A tribute to Arab tradition]
* [http://cnntraveller.com/2007/03/01/under-the-hammer/ Under the Hammer]

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