Insertion of letters and words within geometric forms is an experiment with its roots in the tradition of inscription, where a calligrapher disregards conventional sequence of lines and surrenders to an arrangement that is imposed by the geometric structure of the frame.
Oval is the most suitable shape to accommodate cursive calligraphy as it is consistent with the curves of this calligraphic form. However, we need to seek the deeper roots of this tradition in Hieroglyphic forms that were depicted within frames called Cartouche. Cartouche was an oval or rectangular frame within which the name of kings and queens of ancient Egypt were inscribed. Letters in a Cartouche would appear as cohesive writing; a cohesion that signified “immortality”, giving the bearer of the name a sense of “embracing the universe”. It is ironic that Mafi’s writing in the mirror Cartouche of this work signifies the transience of this universe. The mirror has the capacity to retain a constant presence of the audience. The audience encounters a mass of condensed, intertwined words that recur, and because of the circular shape of the frame, words can be read both top to bottom and vice versa. The reflection of the viewer interacts with the words and becomes the background of the piece. It looks as though the circular frame is his world, this graphic statement is an account of his circumstances, and there is an imperative as his verdict: “Rise! Wake up! This world is coming to an end!”
Abundance of work and great enthusiasm characterized Mafi. Even though he was a gifted traditional calligrapher, his creative mind led to the creation of diverse works. He spent a considerable amount of time on cultivating his ideas and applying various techniques to finalize the composition of his work. Nevertheless, he would always give priority to original calligraphy in the production of an artwork. He would cut foam board and wood to be used for writing. Application of cut-out letters brings to mind carved inscriptions in Islamic architecture; a fundamental difference is that they are made of foam board; a light, fragile material reinforced by oil paint and preservatives. A similar work of Mafi was sold for $200,500 at the Christie’s Dubai auction in October 2010.