Artist brings ‘magic of Arabic’ to the streets in calligraffiti paintings

Artist brings ‘magic of Arabic’ to the streets in calligraffiti paintings
Palestinian-Jordanian artist Mohammad Al-Shafie, known as Chaf, paints calligraffiti murals around Amman. (Photos: Mohammad Al-Shafie)
The Palestinian-Jordanian artist Mohammad Al-Shafie has figured out a unique way to blend calligraphy and graffiti. اضافة اعلان

With a street art-inspired take on the shapely scrawls of Arabic calligraphy, he creates beautiful and colorful murals all around Amman. His art form is known as “calligraffiti”.

“I wanted my art to stand out and to represent me,” the 25-year-old told Jordan News. “Calligraffiti is a unique concept here in Jordan and is not very common like it is in other places such as Egypt and Tunisia, so I thought it was perfect.”

The artist, known as Chaf, learned calligraphy from his father and his late older brother. He explained that his brother, Abd Al-Aziz, inspired him to choose calligraffiti as a career. “He was the biggest influence, he taught me how to do calligraphy and even bought me my first tools. I owe my career to him,” he said.

“It was more of a hobby until I reached middle school,” the artist recalled. “I had a teacher who told me about graffiti. I remember I looked it up, then later on tried combining both calligraphy and graffiti, resulting in the type of murals I now call ‘calligraffiti’.”

It took Chaf some time to develop his own calligraffiti style. “I wanted to create my own font, to have my own style. Whether it was the shape of the letters I used in my calligraphy or the brushes I used for a mural, I wanted people to be able to recognize immediately that it was me behind the drawing as soon as they saw it,” he explained.

Besides his signature font, another special touch the artist brings to his murals is the use of local rap lyrics within the paintings.

“I love listening to local rappers, and usually their lyrics inspire me. I find the music relatable, so I include the lyrics in my murals. I draw them out, then come up with the whole concept for the painting,” he said.

One specific mural he did a while ago was during a live show at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts. “During a hip-hop show at the gallery, I used lyrics from a song by the Egyptian rapper Abyusif - Gaw Br2. I wrote it live in my style of calligraphy all over the mural — people really loved it,” he said.

The artist spoke about the message behind his calligraffiti murals: “My art can be interpreted in many ways, but for me I make sure to use Arabic calligraphy to emphasize on the importance of using our mother language to express our emotions and feelings through art.”

“Plus, I think that Arabic has some sort of magic in it, where it makes people feel comfortable and at peace — even if they do not understand the language, they are captured by the beauty of the letters,” he added.

Chaf said that he sees his art as a “cool combination” of ancient Arab culture and modern art.

While calligraffiti is his main art form, he also creates digital paintings using his computer. Some of his favorite subjects are cartoon characters from beloved children’s TV shows, such as SpongeBob, Pokémon, and the Teletubbies. He also paints characters from animated movies, like Pinocchio. 

“Those, I love to paint,” the artist said. “I feel like some of these cartoon characters have always been there for me, ever since I was a child and they remind me of my childhood.”

“I am also still kind of childish, and I love to have fun drawing these characters,” he continued. “I know for a fact they inspire others too.”

Chaf also paints portraits of famous rappers and singers, including The Weeknd, Eminem, Travis Scott, and Wiz Khalifa. “I love their music and it inspires me,” he said.

About the future, the artist commented: “I want to reach a point where people everywhere recognize my art, I want to create a strong name for myself and spread my calligraffiti to the Middle East.”

“I’m hoping to inspire others to take on different unique career paths like art, especially since mine is not that common.”

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