Today I had the pleasure of teaching Arab art to middle school students at a local school. I wanted to introduce them to the artwork of Iraqi Hassan Mousssady and then have them create khatam name tiles. A khatam is the Arabic word for eight point star, so their tiles will also have eight points, while using their name in a radial symmetrical pattern.
I started the class by giving the kids a little history of Arab art and how it compares to Middle East/North African (MENA) art vs Islamic art. I showcased the contributions made from the Arab world in architecture, calligraphy, ceramics, fiber arts, metalwork, mosaics, oriental rug and painting.
We spent a little time talking about the khatam mosaic tile, how it is not just exclusive to the MENA region, also highly regarded in Buddhist symbolism. We looked at a few examples of the 8 point star in MENA architecture.
We talked about famous Arab Americas, including local celebrity Seahawk Oday Aboushi, and also talked about Muslim Americans. I quizzed them on Islamic countries worldwide and gave them a crossword puzzle on Arabic words that are in the English language.
I then introduced them to Iraqi calligrapher Hassan Massoudy, born in 1944 and later studied at the Beaux-Art in France. His earlier work was figurative and landscapes before he started concentrating on calligraphy. He loves to collect poems and quotes and carries notebooks to amass them. Once he finds one that speaks to him, he takes his time, dissecting the collection of words and playing around with the composition. Once he settles on one word in the quote, he enlarges it with beautiful sweeping flows of paint, making it the highlight of the canvas.
I told the students this gives power to the word and we are going to give power to their names.
I showed them how Hassan Massoudy uses an ancient calligraphy practice of moving letters around to make an image. Here is his drawing of a dove, made up of the letters for the Arab word for peace: السلام.
It’s a little hard to see the word because the letters have been manipulated to create the image. Now see if you can see the letters if each one is colored in a different way.
We looked at a few more slides, including one from local hero, Chief Seattle and I pointed out the use of color. Traditionally, calligraphy is known as a black ink art, but Hassan Massoudy introduced colors.
I explained the khatam name tiles we would be making, and encouraged them to use colors on their letters.
Since we were using their English names, they were allowed to use block letters. The goal is to create 8 points with their letters by moving them around, enlarging them, or finding some creative way to make 8 points.
The final step was adding color to the letters to achieve the look of tile.
We began by folding a 12 x 12 piece of paper into 8 parts and started the process of duplicating their names in each part.
To replicate their names in each section, they each got creative in how their names were reproduced, some used the windows, some used the overhead lights. I have taught this class to younger students and have taken in carbon paper but I enjoy challenging the older students to be innovative in how they reproduce their name.
I knew that it was a good project, when I also noticed my teaching assistant, provided by the school, was also doing her name on the front door.
The class was three hours long and many were not able to finish. However, this is such a portable project, they simply folded their name tiles into triangles and tucked them into backpacks and pockets, to be pulled out later to finish at their own time.
I enjoyed the students and introducing a new artist to them. If you live in Washington State and would like me to come teach Arab art to your K-12 classroom, please contact me.
Visit these other classroom projects
Please stop by A Crafty Arab on Pinterest to see other classroom projects.