Beginning in the early 1970s, Usama began to experiment with Arabic calligraphy, both through painting and sculptures, what he called 3-D calligraphy.
With a registered patent in his name for three dimensional art, Usama al-Khalidi held the first public exhibition in 1980 at the American University of Beirut. He was inspired by the work of masters such as Ibn Al-Bawwab, a Persian calligrapher and illuminator who died around 1022 AD, and who is credited with the perfection of al-Khatt al-Mansub (the well-proportioned script) of Islamic calligraphy. By developing 3-D sculptures, Usama wanted to literally free the calligraphy from its two-dimensional paper form and create sculptures that could be viewed and understood from any angle. In his usual self-depricating style, Usama often shunned any attempt to label him an artist.
Using copper, silver, wood and brass as his preferred materials, the subject of most of his work, whether regular calligraphy or 3-D sculptures were inspired by Islamic writings, with the words “Allah” and “Huwa” being predominant. Usama also loved experimenting with sculpting the names of friends and family. By the 1990s, Usama became fascinated with Japanese calligraphy and experimented with both 2-D and 3-D versions.
In addition to the exhibition in 1980, he also organised an exhibition in 1987 in Bahrain, and another in 1995 in Amman.
Articles on the Jordan exhibit appeared in several newspapers, including: Al-Arab Al-Yawm and Ad-Dustour. An earlier article in Panorama Arab Art Magazine, included a full feature story about Usama and his art.
To see more pictures of the 2-D and 3-D calligraphy, visit the Calligraphy Gallery at the top of the page.
Income generation schemes through handmade paper
Usama was also an expert at making hand made paper. He had studied this ancient craft, before practicing and perfecting it, and considered ways of localising and customising it to the regional context. While working in the Ministry of Industry in Bahrain, he launched a nation-wide income generating project to support Bahraini women. Working through a local women’s organization, the Child and Mother Welfare Society, he set up a training workshop and supported the establishment of a network of women who could work from their homes in producing paper for use as greeting cards, art papers, calling cards, etc. Insisting to use as many local raw materials as possible, the paper was made with the discarded palm leaves, which were rich in fibrous material and perfect for paper making.
In Jordan, Usama replicated his project, working through the Noor Al-Hussein Foundation with the Iraq al-Amir Women’s Cooperative. Instead of just palm leaves, he used a mixture of palm and olive tree fibres. Usama spent many days and weeks training the women on how to perfect the art of paper making and in the process fell in love with the tranquility of the village, and the hospitality of its people. He requested that his final resting place should be the Iraq al-Amir local cemetery.