The Ancient and The Modern – Shukor Yahya, Artist of the Month

Posted by admin on 3rd January 2014  /   Posted in Blog

‘The amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful.’

Paul Valery, Pieces sur l’art

The Malaysian artist Shukor Yahya has combined a love of graphics with ways to represent the Kufic Square and this has become an important motif in his work. Born in Kluang, Johor he now resides in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia having studied graphics there and then at Leicester University, UK for an MA. As both an artist and a graphic designer he has been working for 30 years and has been exhibited all over the world. We were excited to host such innovative work at Lahd Gallery.


Some may know little of Kufic Calligraphy. However, if you are unfamiliar with the name, you may well have seen examples, without realizing, as it is a modified form of a 7th century script called Nabataean script. Its name stems from its birth place: Kufa in Iraq. But what makes this form of calligraphy so important? It was actually used for four centuries as the principle script when copying the Qur’an. Those employed professionally, to reproduce the Qur’an,were known for their very specific type of Kufic form.

There is actually evidence of this craft all over the Ottoman Empire within books and on coins. Yahya’s work is highly individual and he has gained a reputation as an innovator. This is ironic perhaps, when you consider the long history of the chosen form. Yahya’s use of the ancient has metamorphosed into a graphic which exudes contemporary nuance. Visual language, where the meaning is made by the visual appearance of an image and the text is one aspect. Verbal language, on the other hand, is the word itself, and often becomes enmeshed with other emotions in a viewer. Yet no one would doubt there is a profound relationship between the message words convey and their transmission through their visible form. Yahya is acutely aware of this interplay. The implications of his choice of ‘typography’ do have a significant impact on meaning. Or at least, it does, in the framing of the narrative arch through which his work is viewed.

Cultural and religious background can affect perception too and therefore Yahya’s Kufic Squares are still embedded in uncontrollable aspects such as pre-existing knowledge, religious expectations, preference and culture. This is what makes these paintings so provocative and exciting on many levels. Yahya’s choice of Square Kufic is a contemporary simplified form of that used often in Iranian decorative tiling. The words spell out sacred names for Muhammad and the effect achieved is almost unnerving as they appear in Yahya’s choice of form. Two of his works Al Ikhlas Rhapsody and As-Shahadah joined the Lahd Gallery during the London Olympics 2012 and attracted a massively diverse crowd of visitors.

The first, AlIkhlas Rhapsody is acrylic on linen in a 100×100 cm square and re-introduces the attribute of God as explained in the Qu’ran with the following meaning:

“He is Allah, One, Allah, the Eternal Refuge.
He neither begets nor is born,
Nor is there to Him any equivalent.”

The second piece is called As-Shahadah which is the same size as Rhapsody and also acrylic on linen and directly linked to the first piece. The Shahadah’s meaning is a verse which states: “I bear witness that there is no God worthy of worship but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”. The verses of the Qu’ran are represented in a Kufi Square font, which gives the painting a contemporary and geometric style. These forms interfere with the transmission of the text by the feeling of ‘now’ they promote.

For more information on Shukor Yahya visit us at

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