Sitting at home in Oman with nothing much to keep her occupied except for her baby, Amal Tahir, a former architect, was looking for a hobby to fill her time. Amal, who loves cross-stitching and working with yarn, discussed with her husband, Ahmad Syafii’ei. He, however, had a better idea. Syafii’ei, who studied Arabic calligraphy in university, suggested that they combine both their passions into a fresh form of string art.

String art is an arrangement of coloured threads that are wound around a grid of nails on a board to form a specific pattern or image. With the birth of Amalkufi in 2013, Amal specialises in kufi, as the name suggests. Kufi, or block, is one of seven basic Arabic calligraphy styles.

Ahmad Syafii'ei (L) & Amal Tahir (R)

Ahmad Syafii’ei (L) & Amal Tahir (R)

Shared Amal, “In Oman, one could hardly find Arabic calligraphy art so I thought it was a good idea, even though I do not have a background in calligraphy, let alone in Arabic calligraphy. However, I think that with my training in architecture, I am quite creative and that helps me to form the script in my mind easily to be translated onto the board with threads.

Fast forward two years, Ahmad Syafii’ei, who is also an architect, was recently re-posted to Kuala Lumpur. The convenience allows Amal to operate Amalkufi from her parents’ home in Puncak Alam, Selangor, and the first Arabic calligraphy string art in the country.

 stringing on the nail board

stringing on the nail board

The 30-year-old mother of two works full-time at her art but needs the help of her husband to nail the boards as some boards are thick and hard, depending on her clients’ requests.

On the art of nailing the grid, Syafii’ei first coats the nails with oil to keep them rust-free. “My nails are in squares of 1.5 cm to 2 cm. The nails cannot be too far apart or the gaps in the script would be wide and would not look good. I also have to make sure that all the nails are of the same level at 1 cm above the board, to give a floating effect to the string art,” he said.

 Arabic calligraphy string art

Arabic calligraphy string art

Once the board is prepared, it is time for Amal to string her magic. As these are customised, the script and thread colours have already been selected by her clients. Still, as the artist, Amal does make suggestions so that the script pops up. This is also the reason why only basic wooden boards and frames are used instead of elaborate ones.

To ensure that products from Amalkufi last as long as possible, only high quality threads are used. Once, due to the size of the art, jute rope was utilised. As you can see, any type of thread, yarn or rope could be used to string the script.

Amalkufi products

Amalkufi products

Seeing Amal’s dainty fingers fly across the board based simply on the image that she has formed in her mind, one can imagine the patience that is required from the artist for each piece to see fruition. The standard board size of 1.5 ft by 1.5 ft requires a week of stringing to complete. These are sold from RM200 each. Besides the size of the art, price is also determined by the complexity of the script and whether Amal strings the script or its background. Obviously, the inverted piece requires more time to accomplish.

So far, most of Amal’s string art pieces are in holy verses, mainly commissioned as gifts. Nevertheless, Amal once received an order through her Amalkufi Facebook page from a non-Muslim who requested for her name to be strung in Arabic. It underlines the fact that the beauty of string art in kufi transcends race and religion.

Note: An edited version of this article [Beauty of string art] was published on 3rd November, 2015, in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.

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