WASHINGTON, DC – On the evening of July 15, 2021, the Qatar America Institute for Culture (QAIC) celebrated the closing of its “Transcendent Text: Exploring Universal Values Through Islamic Calligraphy” exhibition, the first to be hosted in QAIC’s new headquarters at the nation’s capital. Launched in December 2020 in partnership with the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) in Qatar, the exhibition featured twenty works by master calligrapher Sabah Arbilli, marking their first appearance in the United States following previous tours in Spain, France, Italy, and Qatar.
With public gatherings now resuming, the reception at QAIC provided the opportunity to formally recognize the impact of these works, the artist behind them, and the supporters who made it possible, like ConocoPhillips and the Embassy of Qatar in Washington, DC. The guests in attendance represented DC’s diverse landscape, including leaders from esteemed think tanks, ambassadors, and directors of cultural institutions.
Guests were able to view the works on display as well as interact with fragrances at QAIC’s newly opened Perfumery Museum before gathering in the exhibition for remarks. Hosted by Raed Jarrar, Advocacy Director at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), speakers included Fatima Al-Dosari, Executive Director at QAIC; Fatema Al-Baker, Second Secretary and the Public Diplomacy Counselor at the Embassy of the State of Qatar in Washington, DC; and Sarah Whitson, Executive Director at DAWN.
“I am myself an Arab-American and Muslim American, and…for me calligraphy is part of my identity,” said Raed Jarrar in his opening remarks, “but also for all those who saw the exhibition today I think came to the same realization that I came to, which is this is also universal. It is a universal exhibit […] The same way that…art can be universal, human rights are also universal.”
Jarrar continued on to say that the exhibition is “an indication of how deeply rooted human rights are in different societies.” For each of the works created, Sabah Arbilli carefully paired sacred passages from the Qu’ran and Hadith with statutes from the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, telling the story of the oneness of mankind. The “Transcendent Text” name itself was selected for this exhibition due to the overarching message throughout the artworks being that human rights and the sacred texts of Islam are transcendent through time and across various cultures.
“Mr. Arbilli’s collection of sacred passages has been expertly curated to express…the human condition and the way our experiences are connected,” remarked Fatema Al-Baker of the Embassy of Qatar. Al-Baker also spoke on the Qatar-USA 2021 Year of Culture, an annual initiative spearheaded by Qatar Museums in which Qatar and a partnering nation create programming for the purpose of art and cultural exchange.
For QAIC, the reception was a bittersweet milestone. While it commemorated the end of the first exhibition in the institute’s new space, it also signified a gradual return to events
as we once knew them. Having been launched in the middle of the pandemic, the exhibition was restricted to viewing via private tours or a virtual gallery; a very different experience than what the reception’s guests were afforded.
“As we find ourselves still in the process of welcoming back the public through our doors, we recognize how truly fortunate we’ve been for the opportunity to showcase these 20 unique works by Sabah Arbilli over the past seven months,” said QAIC’s Fatima Al-Dosari. “’Transcendent Text’ was an attraction that brought in over 100 visitors to our space through private tours with groups, embassies, think tanks, and even social media influencers. During a time when art and cultural experiences were severely limited, the exhibition offered a refuge for those feeling disconnected and uninspired.”