Featured Artist: MANAR HARB
Imagine the language letter forms themselves create. What do they tell us about experiences and the world? Each letter has a character with unique features and a voice. The letter M for example, possesses its own characteristics. How does the shape define the identity of the letter? How does the pronunciation reflect on the letter’s character? -M.H.
Manar Harb is a researcher, writer and artist. She uses her native Arabic language as an entryway to express her thoughts through art. “In Arabic, the shape of each letter corresponds with the contour of the body, and the muscles used to make these sounds,” she explains. Her visual series ن, or Nūn, exhibits the capacity of letters to speak and make statements, whereby one can draw interpretation and meaning. “Based on ‘visibility’ and ‘invisibility,’ the technique fluctuates between ‘lines’ and ‘voids’,” Harb elaborates. Using repetition to create a pattern, letters appear in varying sizes, colors, and speeds. The array of pictures produced challenge our perception of language and pave the road for an alternative narrative, told through Arabic characters.
“Language is at the forefront of my research, whereby I explore meaning and messages derived from characters in the Arabic alphabet, and illustrate them through literal, visual and performative means. The space between drawing, painting, and the hand-written insinuates my quest and the way these creative modes of expression relate to and inform literacy, our understanding of ourselves and the world,” says Harb. Her work on language takes on many forms. Starting from sketches, her process evolved into dance performances and led her to extract the single letter, Nūn, as it appears, from the 604-page manuscript of the Noble Quran, a shift she considers, “just the beginning” of her embodiment of language.
Harb grew up in Ramallah, Occupied Palestinian Territories. The politics and social fabric of the geography of her upbringing influence her approach to art and language. She traveled to the United States for the first time during the Second Palestinian Intifada, which erupted in 2000, while Harb was in her last high-school years. Since then, she has travelled back and forth, between the U.S.A. and Occupied Palestine.
In 2012, she landed in Oakland, California. She entered Mills College Book Art and Creative Writing M.F.A. program, and was awarded the Writing and Community Engagement Fellowship for her project, Anonymous Letter Writing. In Oakland, she continues to pursue and practices her art quests on language.
Image: Nūn, one of a kind book, Acrylic on black fabric,18 " x 13" x 7.5", 2017