Osman Waqialla

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Osman Waqialla
Born Uthman Waqi'-Allah
Rufa'a, Sudan
Died 4 January 2007
Nationality Sudanese
Education School of Design, Gordon Memorial College, Khartoum, Sudan (1945); Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, London (1946-49); Cairo School of Arabic Calligraphy (1951)
Known for Artist and calligrapher
Movement Hurufiyya movement

Osman Waqialla (1925−4 January 2007), Arabic: عثمان وقيع الله‎, Sudanese artist and calligrapher, noted for his incorporation of Arabic letter forms into his artworks, thereby integrating African cultural traditions and Islamic visual traditions in contemporary, indigenous art. This use of calligraphy as a graphic form places Waiquialla within the art movement that became known as the Hurufiyya movement (also known as the Al-hurufiyyah movement or the North African Letterist movement) and which influenced many younger artists.

Life and career[edit]

Waqialla was born in Rufa'a, in Central Sudan, Al Jazirah state on the banks of the Blue Nile. He graduated from the School of Design, Gordon Memorial College, Khartoum, Sudan (1945). In 1946 received a scholarship and moved to England to join Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in London and finished his studied in 1949. Later he moved to Egypt, where he trained as a calligrapher under the master Sayyid Muhammed Ibrahim (died 1994) at the Cairo School of Arabic Calligraphy.[1] at the School of Arabic Calligraphy in Cairo.

During his time at Camberwell School of Art and Crafts, London, and the School of Calligraphy, Cairo, Waqialla explored the expressive and compositional possibilities of Arab calligraphic form in his text-based paintings. Waqialla thus became of the first North African artist to free Arab calligraphy from its historical relationship with the sacred Islamic text and to propose it as a veritable resource for modernist art. At the time, this was a revolutionary idea. [2]

After completing his studies, he moved back to Sudan, where he taught at the College of Fine and Applied Art in Khartoum at the beginning of the 1950s. In the early 1960s Waqialla’s students and colleagues at the College of Fine and Applied Arts, Khartoum, Ahmed Mohammed Shibrain (b. 1931), Ibrahim el-Salahi and Tag el-Sir Ahmed (b. 1933) joined in the task of creating a Sudanese modernist art [3] From 1954 to 1964 he founded Studio Osman as a meeting place for artists and intellectuals in Sudan. At that time he received several commissions, including calligraphic designs for the first Sudanese currency, and he is considered one of the first artists in modern art movement in Sudan to explore calligraphy.

In 1967 he moved to England and worked as a consultant calligrapher to the firm of banknote makers De La Rue. His work has been exhibited in Africa, the Middle East, the United States and Europe, including the touring exhibition Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, which began at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1995. He Also exhibited in a landmark Group exhibition that year at the Barbican Art Centre, The Curve gallery, Signs, Traces and Calligraphy, curated by Rose Issa.

In 2005 he returned to Sudan. He is survived by his third wife Zahra, a Chinese calligrapher, who lives in London, and by two daughters and a son by his first marriage. He died of malaria on Thursday, 4 January 2007, aged 81.[4]


He was one of a group of artists, known as the Khartoum School, who wanted to avoid Western arts concepts and were searching for a new artistic identity drawn from within their own culture and heritage. Waqialla was one of the first to explore the use of Arabic calligraphy,[5] and was successfully able to integrate African cultural traditions, Islamic visual traditions into contemporary, indigenous compositions. He used Arabic letter forms and manipulated the space between them with splashes of colour, to transform calligraphy into contemporary works of art. [6] This use of calligraphy as a graphic form within an artwork places Waiquialla within the movement that became known as the Hurufiyah Art Movement (also known as the Al-hurufiyyah movement or the North African Letterist movement). [7]

His work can be found in Smithsonian Institution, Washington Museum, the British Museum, and in many notable private collections. The bulk of his work remains on display in Sudan.

Select list of artworks

  • Kaf ha ya ayn sadd, 1980 British Museum
  • Kufic calligraphy, 1991
  • Calligraphy Coming to Life, date unknown
  • Portrait of a Man, date unknown

Selected exhibitions[edit]

  • 1952: Osman Waiquialla, Cultural Centre, Khartoum (solo exhibition)
  • 1969: Osman Waiquialla, Camden Art Centre, England (solo exhibition)
  • 1995: Seven Stories Exhibition, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (exhibition of modern African art)
  • 1995: Signs, Traces and Calligraphy Show, Barbican Art Centre, London
  • 1996: Seven Stories Exhibition, Guggenheim Museum, New York (exhibition of modern African art)
  • 1999: Writing Arabic, British Museum's touring exhibition
  • 2006: Word into Art, British Museum

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Osman Waqialla," [Obituary], The Guardian, 17 February, 2007, Online: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2007/feb/17/guardianobituaries.religion; "Osman Waqialla, Kaf ha ya ayn sadd, a calligraphic page", The British Museum
  2. ^ Hopkins, P., "Osman Waiquialla" in Kenana Handbook Of Sudan, Routledge, 2014
  3. ^ "Modern African Art, Regional survey, Northern Africa", Oxford Art Online
  4. ^ Venetia Porter and Muhammad Ahmad Abdalla, "Osman Waqialla - A Sudanese calligrapher of international renown, he set a new benchmark in the Arabic canon" (obituary), The Guardian, 17 February 2007.
  5. ^ Zuhur, S., Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East, American University in Cairo Press, 2001, p. 374
  6. ^ Lindgren, A. and Ross, S., The Modernist World, Routledge, 2015, p. 495
  7. ^ Mavrakis, N., "The Hurufiyah Art Movement in Middle Eastern Art," McGill Journal of Middle Eastern Studies Blog, Online: https://mjmes.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/article-5/;Tuohy, A. and Masters, C., A-Z Great Modern Artists, Hachette UK, 2015, p. 56