Arabic calligraphy, stained glass art to unite the cultures through the Pillars of Humanity
The Pillars of Humanity are a group of seven stained glass panels representing the noble characteristics that all people are said to be capable of, regardless of culture, race, nationality, gender or background. The seven characteristics are knowledge, faith, creativity, love, unity, freedom and courage. The Pillars of Humanity were created by the Holdman Studios in Lehi through The Roots of Humanity Foundation.
The stained glass panels represent people from around the world and are taken on tour around the globe. They are currently located at Holdman Studios. Next year, the panels will be traveling to Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia but with some new additions to the love and faith panels.
One of the major art forms in the Middle East is Arabic calligraphy. In the Islam religion, living beings are not supposed to be represented in artwork, but art that does depict living beings can still be enjoyed and appreciated, explained Sarah AlDeyyain, the chief project coordinator for the Roots of Humanity Foundation, Gulf Cooperation Council and Middle East.
Arabic calligraphy is an art form that takes Arabic words or phrases and writes them in a way to represent the beauty of the word — creating art. Each word or phrase can be written differently, and as more calligraphers write the words, they evolve. Ali Al-Baddah, a calligrapher from Kuwait, explained that each calligrapher takes from their own beauty, image and imagination and adds it to the words, specifically words from the Quran.
“Calligrapher after calligrapher, the calligraphy starts to be more beautiful time after time,” he said.
The two art forms, stained glass and Arabic calligraphy, foreign to one another’s creators, will be merged within the Pillars of Humanity to reach more people across the globe. Before touring in the Middle East, the panels of love and faith will be changed to incorporate Arabic calligraphy. Holdman Studios has brought in Al-Baddah to work on the Pillars of Humanity. Al-Baddah has been creating Arabic calligraphy since he was in the first grade and drew his first piece of art on his bedroom wall, the artist told The Avenues Insider during an interview.
Tom Holdman is a stained glass artist, founding member of the Roots of Humanity Foundation and co-owner of Holdman Studios with his wife, Gayle Holdman, an author and consultant for the foundation. They have been involved in creating stained glass for Latter-day Saint temples and other religious denominations’ buildings worldwide. Tom Holdman and his creative team created the Pillars of Humanity and will now be working with Al-Baddah and Khaled Al-Saai to create the two new pillars. Al-Saai was born in Syria and was known as an established calligrapher by the age of 18.
Al-Baddah visited Lehi last week to experiment with different ways of incorporating the calligraphy into the stained glass. Al-Saai was not able to come to Utah but will be coming in the future to work with Holdman on this project. Al-Baddah has no previous experience in stained glass, in the same way Holdman has no previous experience in Arabic calligraphy. However, as they work together, Holdman said, “We want people to look at the diversity of the art and know that there is diversity in us. And, yet, as we merge these two art forms and make perfect harmony, and thus, we as humanity can merge and work well together.”
The pair started their experimentation at Holdman Studios on a white sheet. Al-Baddah drew calligraphy on the sheet to show the many ways a word can be written, including several definitions of the word love. In Arabic, love has 40 definitions, or 40 words that mean love, so each of the definitions will be represented in the new “love” stained glass panel.
To incorporate the calligraphy into the stained glass, Holdman is bringing Al-Baddah and Al-Saai to the studio several times to create art together. This was Al-Baddah’s first visit to the studio, so they are experimenting with different ways to put the calligraphy on the stained glass.
As the Pillars of Humanity travel to the Middle East, AlDeyyain explained that the inclusion of Arabic calligraphy will help Muslims and Arabs identify with the stained glass art because they will see a part of their culture represented within the seven characteristics of humanity.
“I get a bit defensive when people say it (stained glass) is church art or art from the West. I kept telling them art has no boundaries, and then I thought, my main objective is to make stained glass more mainstream. Try to make it more mainstream in our part of the world and make Arabic calligraphy more mainstream in the Western part of the world,” AlDeyyain said.
Said Al-Baddah, “In the European countries and the United States, they appreciate art more than our country because they know the importance of art. That’s why while I’m trying to transfer this idea to our countries. They should appreciate art because it makes life more beautiful.”
He added that he participated in this project because he felt it was a great opportunity to show through his art the things he wants to communicate, which are that humans are united through different avenues. By showing the beauty of his art mixed with stained glass, he hopes to show how different art forms also can be united together.
Gayle Holdman said they wanted to work with Al-Baddah because they have the same vision for the art project and for human existence: “to make the world a better place from your sphere.”
The Roots of Humanity Foundation was created with the goal to expand the success of the Roots of Knowledge stained glass display at Utah Valley University to raise funds for a new stained glass project. The foundation contracted with Holdman Studios to create the new project called “The Sphere of Light,” which will bring together different cultures and create connection through art in the same way the foundation strives for with each project.
“The Sphere of Light,” intended to be an arts and education building, will be located north of the Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point. The circular structure will be constructed with stained glass windows making up the outside of the building. A ramp will take visitors up each floor of the building to view the stained glass along he way. Construction is expected to begin in 2027 and be complete by 2030. The Pillars of Humanity with Arabic calligraphy on the “love” and “faith” pillars will be displayed as part of “The Sphere of Light.” In addition to this partnership with Al-Baddah, Gayle Holdman said they plan to work with artists from around the world to incorporate many cultures into the Pillars of Humanity and into “The Sphere of Light.”
Uniting art forms
Gayle Holdman said her husband “loves the visual art and he loves to say that a picture is worth 1,000 words, but the words are art as well. … He (Al-Baddah) has that amazing gift and talent and background to put his soul into the actual word itself. So you’re getting the definition of the word, but you’re also getting a deeper appreciation of the word.”
Al-Baddah further explained the importance of Arabic calligraphy comes from the value his culture places on their God and their religion, including the Quran. With such value placed on the words in the holy book, they believe “the beauties of the word should be shown if you hear it or if you see it — visually and audibly,” Al-Baddah said. Arabic calligraphers write the words in a way that best represents the beauty of the word to be shown, seen and heard, he said.
Arabic calligraphy is created through careful, fluid motion. Stained glass is created through precise motions of heating up glass and shaping it before it cools. Both art forms tell a story. Both are methodical in which word to write or which people to include in the stained glass. Both are expressions of the artist and their experiences. “The history of the world is written in art,” said Alan Knight, executive director of the Roots of Humanity Foundation. Tom Holdman explained that stained glass is his form of a journal where he can express growth, patience and understanding.
AlDeyyain said as Al-Baddah educated her about Arabic calligraphy, she learned, “The appeal of Arabic calligraphy is the movement. It’s the fluidity of the artwork itself.”
While there is such a stark contrast to how stained glass is made versus how Arabic calligraphy is created, AlDeyyain said she found that as she looked at stained glass she saw how each different shade melted into one another to create a fluid picture. “The artwork that they’ve created with the overlapping of letters, the overlapping of colors. I think it’s a perfect fit,” she said.