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 Ahmed Moustafa  (1943 - )

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Lived/Active: England/Egypt      Known for: geomeric design and figurative painting, sculpture and teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Ahmed Moustafa is an artist and scholar of international repute and now a leading authority on Arabic art and design.  Initially trained as a figurative artist in the neo-classical European tradition, and drawing his inspiration primarily from Renaissance masters, he subsequently rediscovered his Islamic roots.

His work is now almost exclusively devoted to abstract compositions inspired by texts from the Holy Qur'an.  Ahmed Moustafa integrates his inner experiences with experiences of external reality, with a masterly fusion of classical European painting techniques and the exacting discipline of Islamic calligraphy.  This rich visual vocabulary provided by this innovative interpenetration and synthesis of two contrasting traditions at once lends Ahmed Moustafa’s work a universal appeal.

Ahmed’s work is a very personalised style and is always accompanied by concentrated and profound scholarly study.  The artist’s style is as unique as his personality, and its achievement can be considered as the representation of the individual's self-cultivation.

While much of his work is derived from sacred Qur'anic texts and is the embodiment of his own deep Islamic faith, the startling visual impact of his scriptorial palettes, which go far beyond decorative inscriptions, makes them immediately accessible as numinous images, irrespective of whether the texts can be read or not.

On seeing this art for the first time, many people who cannot read Arabic, and who know little or nothing about Islam or Islamic art, are immediately touched by it on some level.  The significance of the pen – and its ability to provide all of humanity with a glimpse of the Divine – stems from the essence of Islam as a continuous, eternal religion: the very first Qur’anic instruction to the Prophet Muhammad was: "Recite in the name of thy Lord ... Who has taught by the pen..." (Surah 96, al-A'laq, 1-4).

Calligraphy and Arabic script were developed as a great art upon firm principles, and through his works Ahmed Moustafa has demonstrated that he is an exemplar of certain characteristics that encompass perception and belief and harmonize philosophy and eternal truths.

His life-long pursuit of the Divine Perfection is reflected in his wonderful understanding of shapes, numbers and geometry in the cosmos: in his explanation of a single character, which is the fundamental element in calligraphic writing or painting, there is always a head, body and tail. The characters of calligraphic script also are interrelated with relationships of position, direction and interval.

With its power to preserve knowledge and extend thought over time and space, the ink of the artist can be compared to the water of life that gives immortality, while the human being is like the pen. In his own words, "Western art deals with the casual, rather than what I call the immutable essence. As Michelangelo said, ‘Good painting is nothing but a copy of the Perfection of God’."

Ahmed Moustafa has lived and worked in London since 1974 and directs the Fe-Noon Ahmed Moustafa Research Centre for Arab Art and Design, which he established in 1983.  He has taught and lectured in many parts of the world, and is currently a visiting professor at the Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture, London, the University of Westminster, London, and the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Alexandria, Egypt.

Exhibitions of his versatile output, encompassing paintings, tapestries, silkscreen prints, and stained glass, have been held in numerous major locations worldwide.

The range of mediums in which his art has found expression reflects the highly creative and productive relationships he has built up with some of the finest craftsmen and technicians in Europe, notably the weavers of the Pinton family studio in Felletin-Aubusson, France, and the stained glass producers of the Derix Studio in Taunusstein, Germany. 

In 1997, in recognition of his international renown in the field of Islamic art, and his special position as a British Muslim artist, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II presented a specially commissioned composition by Ahmed Moustafa entitled "Where The Two Oceans Meet" as a gift to Pakistan to mark the occasion of that nation’s 50th anniversary.  This masterpiece of multi-layered Islamic calligraphy was presented by The Queen at an exhibition in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, entitled "Traditions of Respect – Britain and Islamic Culture" and sponsored by the British Council.

The Queen had certainly chosen well: the timeless piece reflects the paramount importance that Ahmed Moustafa attaches to building cultural bridges of mutual respect and understanding through the medium of his art.  This same theme of cultural bridge building was again evident at the 1998 exhibition of his work in the Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana, sponsored by the Altajir World of Islam Trust.  It was the first exhibition by a Muslim artist in the Vatican and a milestone in the development of Christian-Muslim relations.

Ahmed Moustafa is now a consultant in Islamic art and design on many private projects throughout the Middle East.  He has designed several new Arabic typefaces as well as corporate identity programmes and logotypes for numerous organizations.  The versatility of his prodigious output can be gauged from the diversity of his projects: tapestries for the Royal Pavilion, King Abdul Aziz Airport in Jeddah and the Royal Reception at King Khalid Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and the Exhibition Lobby of the Conference Centre in the Sheraton Hotel in Doha, Qatar – the latter commissioned by the Qatari government and measuring a gigantic 10m x 5.2m – and the National Bank of Luxembourg.

Works by Ahmed Moustafa are also held in The St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, Glasgow; The Contemporary Islamic Collection, British Museum, London; The Oriental Department, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; The Museum of Modern Arts, Alexandria, and the Museum of the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Alexandria, Egypt. Many of his works are also in the hands of private collectors all over the world; in the UK, Europe, the Middle East, the US and Australia.  


1980 Islamic Cultural Centre, London
(Inauguration of the Exhibition Hall)
One man exposition

1983 Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
One man exposition
Biennale, Grand Palais, Paris
Exhibition of Tapestries - group exposition

1984 Al ‘Ain University, United Arab Emirates
Retrospective Exhibition

1985 Salon des Artistes Francais, Grand Palais, Paris
Small selection of tapestries

1985 Palais des Congres, Montreux, Switzerland
"Les chefs d’ouvre d’Aubusson" - 50 Years of Contemporary Tapestries

1985 Musee Rath, Geneva
Treasures of Islam - Single tapestry (considered to be the only piece of contemporary Islamic art exhibited)

1990 Royal College of Art London – Henry Moore Gallery
"The Artistry of Arabic Script in the work of Ahmed Moustafa"
Major exhibition of tapestries, oil paintings, water colours, silk-screen prints and stained glass
Retrospective Exhibition 1 August – 29 October

1993 Manchester City Art Galleries
"An Alchemy of Letters – The Art of the Pen by Ahmed Moustafa"
24 July – 24 October

1995 Barbican Concourse Gallery, London
‘Signs, Traces and Calligraphy’ representing Egypt in a Group Show
part of "AFRICA ‘95' Arts Programme.
19 September to 30th October 1995

1995/6 Royal Tropical Museum, KIT, Amsterdam
"Signs, Traces and Calligraphy" representing Egypt in a Group Show
part of "AFRICA 95" Arts Programme
12 October – 31 January 1996.

1997 Accademia D’Egitto, Roma
"Calligrafia: La Geometria sacra dell’arte islamica"
March - April 1997

1997 Royal commission - in recognition of his international renown in the field of Islamic art, and his special position as an Egyptian/British artist based in England, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II presented his major composition entitled "Where the Two Oceans Meet" as a royal gift to the nation of Pakistan to mark the occasion of Pakistan’s fiftieth anniversary.

1998 Invited by the Vatican to stage a retrospective exhibition entitled "Where the Two Oceans Meet" of his work at the Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana, which was acclaimed world wide as the first and most significant cultural event of its kind through out the history of Christian-Islamic relations.
30 March - 2nd May 1998

1998 Exhibition "Where the Two Oceans Meet" initiated by President Alija Izetbegovic at the National Gallery, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
26 August - 26 September

1999 Exhibition "Where the Two Oceans Meet" staged at Museu Diocesà
5 May - 31 May - Barcelona, at the invitation of the Catalan Institute for Mediteranian Studies.

2004 Group exhibition "Mightier Than The Sword", Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia.

2004/5 UK touring exhibition "Mapping The Unseen", finishing April 2005. Galleries include - St Mungo Museum of Religioud Life and Art, Glasgow; Catmose Gallery, Rutland; University of Herfordshire Galleries, Hatfield; Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford.

2004/5 Group exhibition "Five Artists * Five Faiths", Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, USA.

2006 Group exhibition "Word Into Art: Artists Of The Modern Middle East", British Museum, London.

2008 Exhibition "Seeking An Immutable Essence", Mathaf Gallery, London.

The Contemporary Islamic Collection
The British Museum

The Oriental Department
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The Museum of Modern Arts
Alexandria, Egypt

The Museum of the Faculty of Fine Arts
Alexandria, Egypt

The Islamic Gallery
The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

The St Mungo Museum for Religious Art & Life

The Convention Centre
Islamabad, Pakistan

The Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana
The Vatican, Rome

The National Gallery Sarajevo
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Having originally trained as a figurative painter in the European tradition at Alexandria University, where he then taught, Ahmed Moustafa went to London's Central School of Art and Design in 1974 to study advanced printmaking, and later began to lecture at the same school on Arabic calligraphy.

He went on to research the khatt al-mansub (proportional script) of the 10th century Abbasid calligrapher Ibn Muqla, and received his doctorate from St Martin's College of Art and Design in 1989.  After 11 years of painstaking study, he revealed the exact geometric grid underlying Ibn Muqla's script, whose time-honoured formula has been followed for a thousand years.

Having rediscovered his Islamic roots, Moustafa emerged convinced that innovation in art and the devotional practice of Islamic art are not irreconcilable.  Fusing his training as a painter, scribe and scholar, his paintings from that period incorporate sections from the Holy Qur'an or from early Islamic texts, visualized through color and form to create complex images that can be appreciated at once on several different levels- from the precise content of text to the abstract composition of the words and colors.
Christie's Auction House

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