Rachid Koraïchi

Les Sept Stations Célestes/ The Seven Heavenly Stations
Aicon Gallery, New York

Calligraphy is the most recognisable of Islamic art forms. Fluid lines and elegant Arabic letters are central to expressing the tenets of sacred texts. But waves of modern and contemporary artists have used this traditional form to create their own exposition of the divine. For Algerian-born Paris-based Rachid Koraïchi, who hails from a family of Quraishite’s or transcribers of Quranic text, calligraphy forms the bedrock of a highly personal lexicon of symbols and forms. 

In his second exhibition, Les Sept Stations Célestes/The Seven Heavenly Stations at Aicon Gallery, three bodies of work centre on the mythic belief in the seven stations of heaven. Here, works are created in multiples of seven, symbolising spiritual perfection in many ancient religions of the world. In the first group, occupying the ground floor of the two-storey exhibition space, Koraïchi’s talismanic characters form grand columns resembling Egyptian tablets on twenty-one framed silk pennants. In Les Sept Variations Indigo (2002), hand-painted configurations, representing tales of love and life from Songs of the Recluse by the 18th century Sufi mystic Rabia al-Adawiyya, are suffused with signs inspired by Sufi philosophy and Arabic semiotics. Made in Aleppo, Syria using the ancient Middle Eastern technique of mixing indigo dye, the blue totemic-like paintings ascending above one’s head, evoke a sense of awe. One is instantly drawn to the enigmatic hieroglyphics, which, like prehistoric symbols, lure the viewer with their sobering grace and complex designs. 

This unassuming beauty permeates Koraïchi’s work. A similar sense of harmony is seen in Les Sept Stations Célestes (2018), comprising seven ceramic vases on large wooden plinths at the centre of the pennant filled space. Made in Spain, the smaller exquisitely decorated pots resonate with the same elegance as Koraïchi’s gigantic vases commissioned for the Marrakesh Biennale in 2016. Here too, one cannot decipher the glyphs on the surface that Koraïchi adapted from Sumerian, Hebrew, Chinese and Tifinagh to invoke a larger global history. Embedded in these calligraphic forms is the artist’s magical commingling of visible shapes with intangible spiritual passion. The construct of Sufi verses, combining physical manifestation with invocations to the divine, takes a different form in the fourteen alabaster tablets intricately carved with verses by Kahlil Gibran. Made in pairs, each slab etched with beautiful calligraphic texts about love, accompanies a tablet decorated with arabesque patterns. The word love is repeated multiple times signifying that nothing can exist without this crucial emotion. 

The largest installation, Les Sept Stations Célestes (2018) is made up of 700 Corten steel sculptures. These metal symbols mounted in perfect symmetry on three walls in the upper gallery, bridge the gap between the ephemeral world of matter and the eternal world of the spirit. Dancing figures, plants, moving animals, and Chinese calligraphy morph seamlessly together as symbols of divinity. By obscuring a direct reading of the shapes, Koraïchi pushes the viewer beyond the material into a realm where the holy message of harmony resides in the beauty of form. The prohibition of figurative representation in Islam led the artist to create shapes that appear to imitate the intricacies of infinity. In this work, Koraïchi uses shadows to amplify and mirror the reciprocity between the visible, the invisible, the material and the sacred world. 

Koraïchi’s deviation from tradition is deeply anchored in Sufi humanism and the universal phenomena of love. His aesthetic of deconstructed and abstracted religious texts has germinated from a desire to connect earth to the sacred source of life. But the most alluring aspect of his art is the way he references and invokes history without using anything specific from the past. The ultimate testament to the quietude and magnificence of his work is his ability to lead us slowly but surely toward another world. 

Rachid Koraïchi, Les Sept Stations Célestes. Installation view featuring 700. Corten steel sculptures, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery, New York.

Rachid Koraïchi, Les Sept Stations Célestes. Installation view. Courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery, New York.

Rachid Koraïchi, Les Sept Stations Célestes. Installation view. Courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery, New York.

Rachid Koraïchi, Les Sept Stations Célestes. Installation view. Courtesy the artist and Aicon Gallery, New York.