Halima Lami Bashir

Halima Bashir

Poem by Uthman Dan Fodio

Poem by Uthman Dan Fodio
Egg tempera, Japanese soot ink on wood
46 x 22cm

Surah Fatiha
Surah Fatiha
Pigments on watercolour paper
59 x 42 cm

Salawat in English
Walnut ink on wasli paper
48 x 33.5 cm

Artist statement

I was born and brought up in Nigeria and this background has inspired my research which aims at highlighting the Islamic Art and Craft traditions of West Africa. These traditions inspire me, not only because of their humility but also their emphasis on the beauty of natural materials: there is no unnecessary gilding of the lily.

Fi Lawh Mahfuz

“Al lawh al mahfuz” is a verse from the Quran (Surah 85, verse 21-22) and it means “Nay! This is a majestic Quran, in a preserved Tablet.” Lawh in Arabic. In the Hausa language (West Africa) allo is the word for tablet or wooden board and could be said to be a representation of the tablet referred to in the Quran. My second year project is focused on the allo tradition which is synonymous with Islamic scholarship in most parts of the Muslim world. These wooden boards/allo are used to learn to read, write and memorise the Qur’an; they are also used as a certificate or a talisman.

Writing is synonymous with the tablet, and calligraphy was the starting point of my creative exploration.  

Islam came to West Africa via trade in the 9th/10th century and this led to an interaction in scholarship and learning from the Middle East and North Africa.  The Arabic script has been adopted to express local languages, a practice called Ajami, but expressed in local forms which is the calligraphy style known as Afriki, Hausawi or Sudani.

The allo in Nigeria are known for their anthropomorphic shape and these are the ones I am examining for my project.

“Besides being a tangible symbol of a macrocosmic reality (the heavenly tablet), the wooden tablet can also be seen, on the microcosmic level, as a representation of the human form.”

Brigaglia 2017 (Italian professor specialising in West African Islam)

“The allo, as a medium for writing and transmitting the Qur’an, acquires the same sacred status originally associated with the al lawh al mahfuz.” Hassan 1992 (Sudanese scholar)

My project focuses on two aspects of Islamic Art, calligraphy and geometric patterns. From the various forms of Sudani script I studied, the Karnawi script written by Sharif Bala Gabari, a Nigerian calligrapher, stood out for its  angularity and mastery.   Sharif Bala Gabari developed this script on the allo without any external influence; it therefore is a pure representation of the Nigerian calligraphy tradition.

I am using this Nigerian script to show examples of how Ajami was used to record Islamic scripture, poetry and even local folklore. The geometric patterns on the boards are usually based on craft traditions in Northern Nigeria and have similarities to Celtic knotwork and 4-fold geometric patterns. I have incorporated the techniques learnt in our first year: gilding, parquetry, egg tempera painting, making pigments and carving, to interpret the language of these patterns.  It is an exploration of what the layering of techniques that were developed in other artistic traditions could bring to the humble allo. 

My aim is to maintain the primordial essence of the wood and clay and to use these additional techniques to highlight the material.  

My journey into the Islamic Arts has come full circle. It all started with my younger self being curious about a leather bag that housed a handwritten Quran in a Sudani script which I couldn't read. This project has given me insights to this beautiful script and inspired ideas on how to contribute to the West African Islamic Art and Craft traditions.


Halima Bashir

Working predominantly with wood and clay, Halima has used these materials to interpret the language of patterns and calligraphy found in West African Islamic art and craft. Halima Bashir was born and raised in Nigeria, takes influences from the Arabic calligraphy script predominant in West Africa called Sudani and patterns from craftwork in northern Nigeria. Having studied architecture in Nigeria and North Cyprus, she has taken her interest in traditional architecture to her art and craft work. Halima is currently working towards her ijaza (certificate) in Arabic calligraphy with a master calligrapher.


Email: halimabash[at]gmail.com