Wissam Shawkat

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Wissam Shawkat
وسام شوكت
Born (1974-06-18) June 18, 1974 (age 49)
Basra, Iraq
EducationCivil Engineering
Alma materBasra University
  • Calligraphy Artist and Designer
  • Civil Engineer

Wissam Shawkat (Arabic: وسام شوكت) is an Iraqi Calligraphy Artist and Designer of both classic and contemporary calligraphy. His work is considered a bridge between tradition and contemporary cultures.[1] Born in Basra, Iraq on 18 June 1974 now lives in Dubai, UAE.

Wissam is a self-taught artist, acknowledged master without a teacher and this only adds to his respectability and is held in high esteem by the calligraphy community around the world.[1]

Early life

Wissam Shawkat was born in Basra – Iraq in the suburb of Manawi Pasha in 1974. His father was a native of Mosul who moved to Basra at a young age and worked at the National Oil Company, his mother is a retired schoolteacher. A third among four brothers, brought up in a happy house and in a family that appreciated education and literacy. Both his parents were supportive of his early interest and encouraged his fondness for calligraphy.[2] Wissam showed an interest in Arabic calligraphy at early age while he was at the primary school – Year 3 his teacher Mr. M. Ridha Suhail wrote on the blackboard few letters in Ruqa’a style which captured the attention of the little Wissam who became fascinated with the forms and shapes of these letters.[3] His teacher and the principal of the school noticed the raw talent in Wissam, informed his father and mother who supported him, during those tough years of heavy shelling and bombing during the Iraq-Iran War, by buying him lettering books, papers and other drawings and calligraphy materials. Wissam recalls in one occasion his father drove him for over an hour outside his hometown near a bricks factory called Tagerian Bricks Factory, a place where wild bamboo grown nearby in order to pick some cane reed to make traditional calligraphy pens/Qasba.[1]

Escaping the Iraq-Iran War

In 1987, when Wissam was Twelve years old his family decided to move to Mosul, a city in Northern Iraq, to escape the bombardment of Basra during the Iraq-Iran War. The family stayed in Mosul for less than Two years.[2] During Summer school holiday he enrolled at a calligraphy course for One month to practice Al-Ruqa’a style. Wissam recalls in one occasion while attending that course the teacher/instructor noticed there was a written text on the outer cover of his copybook, the text read "Arabic Calligraphy Course" which was written in Thuluth style (the most complex, demanding script) so the teacher asked Wissam who did the writing and Wissam boldly but humbly answered by saying he did it. The teacher was amazed by the neatness and the accuracy/rules of the writing style and decided to move him into a more advanced class by placing him in Thuluth style Course - however that class had to be cancelled due to low number of enrollment and attendees. Wissam eventually was enrolled in a course of Diwani style and successfully completed the course with high distinction. Also, during the Summer holiday Wissam worked for a local calligraphy shop, located in Al-Najafi street which considered the cultural hub of the city where libraries and book shops were all over the place, his work involved writing local banners on canvas plus other casual and small projects. This work experience gave Wissam the opportunity to broaden his knowledge of the world of calligraphy, meet other local calligraphers and gain confidence at early age.

Returning to Hometown - Basra

In 1988, the family returned to Basra and opened a stationery store selling cut paper, writing implements and other office supplies. It was a family-run business and Wissam began developing his skills and knowledge of dealing with the urban life of Basra while getting known as a calligrapher in his own right. He was let loose in the city he loved once again and began his calligraphic knack: he would write signs both in school and out in the marketplaces. Later, in 1988, while a high school student, he participated in an exhibition and won the first prize for his city. He traveled six hours by train from Basra to Baghdad, to attend the exhibition award ceremony and collect the prize from the Ministry of Education, who hosted the show.[3] His teachers would ask him to write panels to be hung, shopkeepers needed signs to advertise their commodities. It was during these early times that Wissam began to have an insight into the significance of his art. He began to understand the interaction of substance and form and to respect the integrity of this important artistic medium. Wissam was drawn to the fixed order of Arabic calligraphy at a time when his world was in chaos—studying, copying, and revising Thuluth until reaching mastery many years later.[4] Wissam excelled in his studies during high school and was accepted at the engineering college majoring in civil at the University of Basra, graduating in 1996. Wissam served in the Iraqi army where calligraphy saved him “I was called on to make signs and do all sorts of lettering work for my superiors, rather than the usual work of a soldier,” he recalls.[5] By 1998, when he was done with the army service, he attempted a career in engineering but it was less than one week before he quit his first job and joined the family stationery firm; the business of lettering by then, was flowing in his veins and so it was that Wissam carved own path into the sacred space of traditional calligraphy.[5]

A New Challenge - Leaving Hometown to Dubai – UAE

In 2002, Equipped with self-confidence and the energy of youth, Wissam decided to leave his hometown – Basra and travel to Dubai – UAE to start a new life. He recalls It was not easy in the beginning, as it was his first time traveling outside Iraq to a different country.[3] He worked for Bates Pan Gulf advertising and design agency from 2003 – 2005 and then for enterprise IG (Re-named Brand Union later) in Dubai for 4 years before quitting his job to be self-employed as a free artist and designer focusing on the letter forms and developing logotypes with a modern twist as well as working as a consultant and designer with many branding agencies such as Saatchi and Saatchi, Landor Associates and many other agencies.

Al Wissam Style/Font

Wissam developed a new calligraphy style named “Al Wissam” after experimenting with new forms and designs of Arabic letters. The concept was to come up with modern style of Arabic calligraphy that can be used in design and art away from the traditional known fonts.


Rather than continue the path of a traditional calligrapher, Shawkat began avidly researching and responding to European artistic movements, ultimately coming to view himself as a conceptually motivated artist. His pieces are a true hybrid of modern European and Middle Eastern influences. To the West these include Cubism, Futurism, Geometric Abstraction, The Bauhaus, and De Stijl.[6] Shawkat's influence on a new generation of graphic designers and calligraphy artists using his style “Al Wissam” is well documented and observed, his designs of letters forms became informally nicknamed “Calligraforms”, an art movement that merges the graphic qualities found in classic letterforms and western Abstraction and Cubism. [7] A wall design with Al Wissam style was seen in the large demonstrations took place in the Al-Tahreer Square in Baghdad-Iraq in October 2019.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Holland, Elinor. "Letter Art Review - Wissam Shawkat". Elinor Holland. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Safwat, Nabil F. "Monumental 11/11".
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Shawkat, Wissam. "Word AB - Wissam Shawkat" (PDF).
  4. Lorch, Danna. "Botanist of Letters" (PDF).
  5. 5.0 5.1 Seaman, Anna. "On Two Fronts" (PDF).
  6. Lorch, Danna. "Botanist of Letters" (PDF).
  7. "Wissam Shawkat". Tashkeel.

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