Born and raised in the UAE, Dia’a Allam is a native Dubai artist who has wowed the region with his unique style of Arabic calligraphy. Trained as a professional Urban Planner and Landscape Architect, Dia’a is also the co-founder of Na7t Designs – the first Emirati brand for Arabic calligraphy fashion of its kind.
Esquire spoke exclusively to Dia’a about his art and pressures put upon what being a local artist:
How did you get into calligraphy?
I’ve been working as an Urban Planner and Landscape Architect for about 10 years now but I’ve always been passionate about Arabic calligraphy ever since I was a young boy. I hadn’t ever planned on doing it professionally. It first started in 2011, where I did this big project, which was a book of 40 designs, in order to celebrate the UAE’s 40th National Day. It’s just grown since then.
What do you think about those who consider graffiti to be nothing more than vandalism?
Back when Graffiti first started I think a lot of people were upset by it because they simply saw it as writing on walls without permission, but I think here in the UAE we have managed to change the whole idea of graffiti and what it means. I see it as a way of adding more beauty to all these outdoor places. I think graffiti is something that everyone can enjoy but it’s got to mean something. That way people should just be able to see the beauty of the art rather than considering it a form of vandalism.
How would you personally describe your style of art?
My style is traditional calligraphy merged with modern graffiti. I self-taught myself the basics of Arabic calligraphy and then I just started mixing it with all these other forms of abstract art. That’s how calligraffiti (calligraphy + graffiti) came about. I’ve always liked murals and graffiti because they are very close to people. I think you can get people to interact more with your art if you’re doing it live in front of them. It’s a way to get more people connected to the piece.
You recently had an exhibition, ‘The Immortal Language’, showcase at The Galleria Mall Abu Dhabi over Ramadan. What do you think you achieved from this?
I think I achieved a great deal by exhibiting in such a public place. I called it ‘The Immortal Language’ because it was about Arabic calligraphy and the way that Arabic itself is an immortal language. It was inspired by a poem of the same name from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. I felt it was a very unique idea for this collection because it combined some of his wonderful poetry verses with my very modern style. Exhibiting in the mall allowed me to show the cutting-edge style of my art to the world.
You were brought up here in the UAE. How do you feel that art is perceived in the region?
Well I think that recently the region has really started to encourage both male and female artists here. The UAE is starting to become a very good environment for artists. Because, living here there are so many different cultures being brought together, and such a vibrant variety of people in the region, that it can sometimes be difficult to find a way to connect everyone. So I think they are finally starting to see that art is a great way to make this connection and bring people together.
Where does your inspiration come from?
It varies to be honest. A lot of it comes from nature but a lot of it also stems from my own interests. For example, I’m really into sci-fi films so I might get inspired by one of them. My art is traditional but I try to give it this modern edge by taking inspiration from these different sources. Whatever they may be. Being an Urban Planner is great in this regard, as when I see new plans and architectural designs they can really be a great inspiration.
Do you make your art specifically with a local audience in mind?
No, I don’t. I try to make art for everyone. I actually have requests coming in from places like Canada, USA, and Europe at the moment. Everyone seems to love this sort of Arabic calligraphy style right now. It just goes to show that you don’t have to be an Arabic speaker to appreciate the beauty of the art. It’s related to my design brand actually. It’s called Na7t Designs and it’s the first brand in the UAE for Arabic calligraphy fashion. We’ve been selling products for a few years now and, in fact, the majority of our customers are tourists. I think that really backs up the point that my art is for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you speak the language of Arabic – just as long as you speak the language of art.