Mohamed Zakariya — calligrapher, turner, metalworker—combines classical standards with a modern sensibility to produce works on paper, fantasies in wood, and instruments from the history of science. With no formal education, Zakariya learned his trades in aerospace-industry machine shops; in the Los Angeles atelier of Oscar Meyer, the French impresario of antiques and objects de virtu; at the British Museum; and at Istanbul’s Research Center for Islamic Art, History, and Culture, where he earned two licenses in Islamic calligraphy—the first Westerner to do so.
Zakariya grew up in Southern California in the 1940s and 50s. “There was no better time to be a boy,” he says. “We could go anywhere and see anything. The area was full of the world’s cast-offs—cranks, eccentrics, old men tinkering in their garages. Great things were to be found in dusty antique shops. We played on the beach and went to school barefoot. Our teachers were glorious fools, and school was not for study but for discovery.”
In 1961, after a holiday in Morocco, Zakariya accepted Islam and began to learn the Arabic language and the study of Islamic calligraphy. He was 19. These interests took him many times to Morocco, Spain, and England, where he remained for a few years studying calligraphy and manuscripts at the British Museum. During this time, he made a living restoring old houses and acting in the British comic troupe “Bruce Lacey and the Alberts.”
Since settling in the Washington, D.C., area in 1972, Zakariya has traveled frequently to Turkey and the Persian Gulf and has exhibited and lectured extensively in this country and abroad. Known for his design of the “Eid Greetings” U.S. postage stamps, he concentrates primarily on classical Arabic and Ottoman Turkish calligraphy. Recent experience includes a stint as artist-in-residence at the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art in Honolulu; solo exhibitions at the Museum of Islamic Arts in Doha, Qatar; the Asia Society, New York; the Institute for Works on Paper, San Francisco; and the Bellevue (Washington) Arts Center; and group exhibitions in Dubai and Kuwait.
Taking it as his mission to revive classical texts through aesthetically arresting presentation, Zakariya is considered the preeminent ambassador of the art of Islamic calligraphy in America.
1961: Private study in Los Angeles
1964-66: Private study at British Museum, London, and with A.S. Ali Nour in London and Tangier, Morocco
1966-71: Consultant in calligraphy, illumination, antique restoration, and instrument making, Oscar Meyer Antiques, Los Angeles
1971: Artist in Residence at Scripps University, California
1984 on: Research Center for Islamic History, Art, and Culture (IRCICA), Istanbul (ongoing)
1988: Diploma (icazet) in sulus/nesih script from Hasan Celebi
1991: Consultant on astronomical globes, Khalili Collection, London
1997: Diploma (icazet) in talik script from Ali Alparslan
2000, 2003: Script identification for Islamic manuscripts, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland
2001, 2011: Design for U.S. Postal Service Eid stamps
2004: First prize for Turkish Celi Talik composition, IRCICA International Calligraphy Competition
2004: Lifetime community service award, Los Angeles Islamic Center
2004-12: Member, Joint Advisory Board, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar
2004: Curator, Islamic Calligraphy from the State of Qatar, Anderson Gallery, Virginia Commonwealth University
2005: Artist in Residence, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Shangri La, Honolulu, Hawaii
2012: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Virginia Commonwealth University
1975: Solo exhibition, Venable-Neslage Galleries, Washington, D.C.
1982: Solo exhibition, Georgetown Design Group, Washington, D.C.
1983: Solo exhibition, Doha Free Art School, Qatar
1986: Solo exhibitions and lectures, United States Information Agency (traveling exhibition, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dabi, and Oman)
1987: Solo exhibition, Salon of Invention, Jidda, Saudi Arabia
1988-90: Solo exhibitions and lectures, American Arab Affairs Council, (traveling exhibition, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dabi, and Oman)
1987: Solo exhibition, Salon of Invention, Jidda, Saudi Arabia
1988-90: Solo exhibitions and lectures, American Arab Affairs Council, (traveling exhibition)
2005: Masterworks Institute for Works on Paper, San Francisco
2006-07: Mohamed Zakariya, Islamic Calligrapher (solo exhibition), Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, Washington
2008: Solo exhibition and lecture, The Asia Society, New York, N.Y.
2011: An Eloquent Eye: Recent Works by Mohamed Zakariya, Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar
1988: International Festival of Arabic Calligraphy and Islamic Ornament, Baghdad
1990: Group exhibition, Research Center for Islamic History, Art, and Culture (IRCICA), Yildiz Sarayi, Istanbul
1990: Four Contemporary Calligraphers, Renwick Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1991: Group exhibition, Ornamental Metal Museum, Memphis (astrolabes)
1994: Faces of Faith, Klutznick National Jewish Museum of B’nai B’rith, Washington, D.C.
1996: Kazema Festival for Islamic Heritage, Kuwait City, Kuwait
1996: Group exhibition, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York
1997: Group exhibition, Research Center for Islamic History, Art, and Culture (IRCICA), Yildiz Sarayi, Istanbul
1998: Two Sacred Paths Christianity and Islam, Washington National Cathedral
2000: Group exhibition and presentation, Liturgical Arts Festival, Gallery of the Arts, Springfield Art Association, Springfield, Illinois
2000: Islamic Calligraphy A Living Art, Dadian Gallery, American University, Washington, D.C.
2002: Works of Devotion, Andover Newton Theological School, Newton, Massachusetts
2002: Word and Worship Approaching Islam through Art, Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
2002: Group exhibition and presentation, Reflections at a Time of Transformation, ASMA Society for Islamic Culture and Arts, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York
2003: Writing the Sublime The Art of Calligraphy in the Religions of Abraham, Interfaith Center of New York, New York
2005: Scripture as Art Calligraphy in the Three Faiths of Abraham, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
2007: Art in Embassies Exhibition, U.S. Embassy, Cairo, Egypt
2007: Dubai International Exhibition of the Arabic Calligraphy Art, Dubai, UAE
2008: Third Kuwait International Calligraphy Exhibition, Kuwait City
2010-2011: Pilgrimage & Faith: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Cantor Gallery, Worcester, Massachusetts; Loyola University Museum of Art, Chicago; University of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia; Rubin Museum of Art, New York City.
2013: A Fine Line: Calligraphy, Language and Symbol, Strathmore, Bethesda, Maryland
2012-2015: Doris Duke’s Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape, and Islamic Art, seven venues, including Museum of Arts and Design, New York City, Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, and Honolulu Museum of Art
1977: King Khalid Military City, Saudi Arabia ( foundation stone)
1978: Alder Planetarium, Chicago (cross staff)
1981: Jidda International Airport, Jidda, Saudi Arabia
1984: Time Museum, Rockford, Illinois (sundial)
1985: Aramco Science Museum, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (astrolabe, celestial globe)
1986: National Museum of Qatar, Doha (sundial)
1991: Images of Paradise in Islamic Art, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth University (exhibition design)
1994: Muslim Community Center, Silver Spring, Maryland (mural calligraphy)
2001 and 2011: Design for “Eid Greetings” stamp for U.S. Postal Service
2003: Mosque of the Two Columns, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. (interior design and installation)
2005: Cover calligraphy for New York Times Magazine, January 2005
2006: Art on Call, Historic Washington’s Fire and Police Call Box Project (calligraphy for installation in call box)
2005: Muslim Association of Hawaii Mosque, Honolulu, Hawaii (calligraphy)
2007: Keithmore Consulting, calligraphic panel for the dome of a tomb in Tasmania
2008: Aramco Services Co., double Hilye gift for retiring CEO Abdallah Juma’ah
2009: U.S. State Department, calligraphy for presidential gift to King Abdalaziz of Saudi Arabia
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco (calligraphy)
Museum of Turkpetrol Vakfi, Istanbul (calligraphy)
Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore (calligraphy)
Harvard Sackler Art Museum, Cambridge (calligraphy)
Ammann, Paul, et al. Meisterschreiber: Zeitgenössische Arabische Kalligrafe un ihre Künstler. Bern: Benteli Verlag, 1998.
Broadway, Bill. “Artistic Leap of Faiths: B’nai B’rith Exhibit Features a Jew, Muslim and Christian.” Washington Post, November 19, 1994, section B, page 7.
Burchard, Hank. “Art That Celebrates Peace.” Washington Post, October 21, 1994, section N (Weekend) page 65.
DeLong-Bas, Natana. Notable Muslims: Muslim Builders of World Civilization and Culture, Oxford: One World Publications, 2006, pp. 353-59.
Gokcigdem, Elif. “In Calligraphy, Turkey Is the Leader” and “Calligraphy Is an Art that Requires Patience.” Turkiye (Istanbul newspaper), November 26 and 27, 1994.
Karim, Nazim. “Mohamed Zakariya: Master Calligrapher and Instrument-Maker.” The Ismaili USA, March 21, 2006, pages 14-17.
Kesting, Piney. “The World of Mohamed Zakariya.” Aramco World, January/February 1992, pages 10-17.
Mack, Rosamond E., and Mohamed Zakariya. “The Pseudo-Arabic on Andrea del Verrocchio’s David.” Artibus et Historiae, No. 60, 2009, pages 157-72.
Murphy, Caryle. “Expressing Faith in Written Word: Islamic Calligrapher Shows His Devotion in Elegant Script Sanctified by Tradition.” Washington Post, October 26, 2003, section E, pages 1 & 3
Quirk, Rory. “Artistry in the Old World Tradition.” Washington Post, January 25, 1976, section D, page 18.
Rourke, Mary. “Islam’s Sacred Script Survives the Centuries: American Muslims Rely on Diligence and Faith to Master the Intricate Art.” Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1999, section Southern California Living, Part E, page 1.
Safwat, Nabil. The Art of Calligraphy of the 14th to 20th Centuries. Vol. 5, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art. London: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Sagnier, Thierry J. “A New Craftsman in the Old, Arabian Manner.” Washington Post, September 5, 1971, section H, pages 1 & 2.
Tanrikorur, Cinucen. “Sen Seni Bil” [Know Yourself]. Aksiyon (Turkish periodical) March 28, 1997, page 54.
Wellborn, Stanley. “Scientific Instruments of Wood: Simple hand tools, Old Methods, and Ingenuity.” Fine Woodworking magazine, November 1978, volume 13, pages 40-43.
Ybarra, Michael J. “’Arts of the Islamic World’ at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.” Los Angeles Times, October 5, 2008.
Zakariya, Mohamed, The Calligraphy of Islam: Reflections on the State of the Art. Washington, D.C.: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, 1979.
__________. “The Two Yesaris: Father and Son Calligraphers.” Seasons: The Journal of Zaytuna Institute, Spring 2007, volume 3, number 2, pages 6-16.
__________. Microscope and cross staff featured in Fine Woodworking Biennial Design, Books One and Two. Newton, Connecticut: Taunton Press, 1977, page 48, and 1979, page 156.
__________. “Making a Microscope.” Fine Woodworking magazine, November 1978; reprinted in Fine Woodworking on Woodshop Specialties. Newtown, Connecticut: Taunton Press, 1987, pages 13-14.
__________, translator. Letters in Gold, by M. Ugur Derman, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998.
__________. Music for the Eyes. New York and Los Angeles: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1998. Reprinted on zakariya.net
__________, translator. Art of Calligraphy in the Islamic Heritage, by M. Ugur Derman. Istanbul: Research Center for Islamic History, Art, (IRCICA), 1999.
__________. “Becoming a Calligrapher,” in M. Ugur Derman Sixty-Fifth Birthday Festschrift, Irvin Schick, ed. Istanbul: Sabanci University, 2000. Reprinted on zakariya.net
__________. “The Hilye of the Prophet Muhammad.” Seasons: The Journal of Zaytuna Institute, Autumn-Winter 2003-2004, volume 1, number 2, pages 13-22.
__________. A Brief Look at the History and Development of Islamic Calligraphy; Great Islamic Calligraphers; The Hilye of the Prophet Muhammad; Selected Hadiths; The Flow of the Pen. zakariya.net.
________. “An Ottoman Murakkaa and the Birth of the International Style,” in God Is Beautiful and Loves Beauty: The Object in Islamic Art and Culture, ed. Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom: Yale University Press, 2013.
Film & Video
1994: Islamic Calligraphy with Mohamed Zakariya. 20 minutes. Produced by the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, in conjunction with the exhibition Islamic Culture and the Medical Arts, National Library of Medicine, Washington, D.C.
2002: Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet. Two-hour documentary includes calligraphy and speech by Mohamed Zakariya. Produced by Kiki Media and Unity Production Foundation. Aired on PBS.
2006: Sacred Arts, Ancient Sounds. Includes an interview with Zakariya in his studio. Produced by CBS
2007: Mohamed Zakariya, Calligrapher. 20 minutes. Produced by Silk Road TV for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in conjunction with the exhibitions Traces of the Calligrapher and Writing the Word of God
2011: Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World. Includes a demonstration by Zakariya. Produced by Gardner Films and Unity Production Foundation