If you’re an artist, an art enthusiast, or have studied art, then you’re probably familiar with Cubism, the influential 20th C art movement pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Barque, and primarily characterized by the presence of cubic shapes in artwork. But have you ever come across Circlism?
An art style that uses circular and curved lines, vibrant colors, and depicts real life struggles, Circlism was developed in Kuwait in 1962, after Lidia Qattan noticed that her husband, the late artist Khalifa Qattan, had been painting in a circular manner.
Born in Kuwait in 1934, Khalifa was first exposed to art at the age of 12. However, he didn’t begin to produce art until he was 15, when his Egyptian teacher at the local Al Mubarikiyyah School encouraged him to draw and paint by giving him candy for every artwork he completed. From then on, Khalifa never stopped making art.
In 1953, he became the first Kuwaiti artist to hold an art exhibition in the country. Nine years later, in 1962, he also became the first national to exhibit his work abroad, showcasing it in Ferrara, Italy and Cairo, Egypt.
It was towards the end of that same year that Circlism was born, after Khalifa’s brush began turning lines into curves, rectangles and squares into circles, and cubes into spheres.
Years prior, Khalifa had experimented with Cubism but had found it to be too constrictive.
For Khalifa, Cubism was not able to depict his vision of life and continuity of tatawor or evolution; how everything in the universe moves in an eternal circle or loop. ‘Instinct, for example,’ said Khalifa, ‘never ends with the end of individuals, it is unceasing, because it is born with every person, so it circles with humanity.’
He found the answer in Circlism, which was formally introduced to the Kuwaiti public through an exhibition that took place in December of 1962.
Though it captured the media’s attention in Kuwait, was recognized in the Arab world, and two manifesto-like books about Circlism were written by Khalifa and Lidia, a follower of Circlism herself, in order to theorize and contextualize it spiritually, philosophically, and scientifically, Circlism never became an art movement like other modern art movements, such as Surrealism and Cubism, did.
Despite that, Khalifa and Lidia’s daughter, Jalila, along with her mother, are determined to immortalize his life’s work and devotion to expression through art.
A year after Khalifa’s passing in June of 2003, Jalila founded the Khalifa Qattan Children & Youth Art Exhibition. During the annual 3-day long event, children from the ages of 4 to 14 years compete in an art competition, as a way to encourage them to use art as a channel through which they can express themselves. The winners’ artworks are displayed alongside some of Khalifa’s paintings, as a form of raising awareness about Circlism amongst the youth and preserving Khalifa’s legacy, who is popularly known as ‘ The Sheikh of Artists’ in Kuwait today.
Another has been by displaying his artwork on Instagram account, @khalifaqattanq8, and through guided tours in the Khalifa and Lidia Qattan Museum in Kuwait (also known as the Mirror House), conducted personally by Lidia and Jalila.
Special thanks to Lidia and Jalila Qattan for helping put together this article, and to Dr. Moayad Hassan for providing a rich PhD thesis about this topic to reference. You can find out more about Khalifa Qattan and see more of his artwork on these websites: www.khalifaqattan.com and www.mirrorhouseq8.com .
Sharifah Alhinai is the Managing Storyteller at Sekka.