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                      A scribe is a person who copies out documents… A person employed

                   before printing was invented to make copies of documents, manuscripts...


                                                           … As a verb scribe is: to write.

Tracing the Scribe is an artist’s book inspired by my fascination with the earliest forms of writing—illuminated manuscripts and, especially, the codices of early Islamic eras. This exhibit galvanized me to incorporate one of my favorite folios from what is considered among the most beautiful ancient Qurans in the world: the Blue Quran, dated to the 9th-10th century. Its pages are written with gold ink on indigo-dyed vellum. The complete manuscript is estimated to include 600 parchment folios; this might have required about 150 sheepskins to make. Approximately one hundred detached leaves from this Quran are held in private and public collections around the world, including those of the MET, LACMA, and the sixty-seven pages preserved in the National Library in Tunis. The graceful, almost abstract lines copied here in my own hand are in the the Arabic Kufic script, a style of script that I love. It’s thought to have been developed in the 7th century and named after the city of Kufa in present day Iraq.


The reason I selected this particular folio to copy is not only because of its aesthetically pleasing lines, but that its message could be relatable to other religions. I was able to identify the chapter and its verses after some sleuthing. This was a learning journey for me, an artist in the 21st century, copying and recopying a page written by an ancient scribe. Tracing his letters, I followed his hand while also adding my own touches. In doing this, I felt the sense of being one with the scribe. What is amazing is that someone like me, with an elementary level of classical Arabic education, can actually manage to read a 9th-10th century folio without special academic expertise! For the overall design I chose the traditional Islamic book structure and incorporated Arabesque ornamental motifs from around the 12th century to complement it. I also included an acetate overlay with the diacritical marks that helped me read the text correctly. These red dots differentiate one Arabic letter from another; without these marks, it’s quite challenging to decipher the text unless you already know the passages by heart.


I would like people to see this artist’s book not as religious text. Rather, I prefer it to be viewed as a work of art honoring a scribe from some 1200 years ago and all those who came before and after. I dedicate this book to those who preceded the printing press: centuries of scribes, writers, and artists creating beautiful tablets, scrolls, manuscripts, codices, etc.—copying, lettering, painting, illuminating, and binding to preserve in writing our collective history and humanity for posterity.


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