|Moving ahead in curves: The art of calligraphy in Iran||
In an interview with Maryam Ala Amjadi he discusses the art of calligraphy in Iran. Below is the abridged version of the interview translated by the interviewer.
Maryam Ala Amjadi: A very basic question, why do we like to write beautifully?
Kaveh Teimouri: The answer to your question would be this Persian verse:
In the name of the lord who created art
The art of glory and beauty of the heart
This could also be a poetic translation of this Islamic saying, "God is beautiful and loves beauty". Aestheticism is one of the many factors in understanding human personality and aesthetic values today are as significant as humanitarian, religious and scientific values because humans have a natural inclination for beauty. Of course, one can elaborate much more by adhering to philosophy of aesthetics but to be concise and as the Persian poet Rumi says, to narrate the story of the "sea in a pot", one can offer this explanation.
MAA: Could you please give us a glimpse of the history of Persian calligraphy? Did calligraphy also exist before the advent of Islam in Iran?
KT: The art of calligraphy has a long history in Iran but its significant advancement began with the Kufic script. Of course, we are only speaking of a slice of history. Before the advent of Islam, Persians wrote in the Pahlavi script. In that period, Kufic script, mostly angular and geometrical, was common in Arabia. After the advent of Islam and in the spirit of writing the word of God, the Quran, the straight lines and angles of the Kufic script gradually softened. Regardless of culture and ethnicity, davaraani (literally, cursive) writing is more appealing to the human eye. So Kufic was modified to represent the word of God and curves began to take shape. In fact, the great spiritual ancestor of calligraphers is Imam Ali (AS), the first Imam of Shi'ites. Writing Islamic texts in that period was not limited to the mere transfer of meaning but also aimed at beautification of scripts in order to make them visually appealing. No wonder that calligraphy flourishes as an art in the Islamic era.
MAA: What other script styles developed after this period?
KT: The needs of the times were not limited to the Kufic script. Aesthetics in concord with Islamic insight and knowledge led to the advancement of calligraphy. The Aghlam-e Setteh (Arbic word, the six genres) which were created by the veteran Persian calligrapher, Ibn-e Mughleh in the 9th century are an instance of this growth. In those times, calligraphers were much revered and could easily climb up the social and political ladder. These scripts which were created for different social functions were born out of the Kufic script: Mohaghagh, Reyhan, Sols, Naskh, Toqih and Reqah.
MAA: Some of these styles prevailed and some did not. Why?
KT: Naskh was readily adopted by calligraphers because of its intrinsic features for agile and clear transfer of meaning. But all scripts were actually significant during a certain period and their own timeframe. For instance, Reyhan, a firm and resilient script with large fonts was developed for writing the Quran. There are also versions of the Quran written in the subtle small fonts of Naskh. The Masnavi Ma'navi of Rumi inscribed by Vesal Shirazi is also in Naskh.
MAA: So how was Persian calligraphy born from the heart of Islamic calligraphy?
KT: When Iranians accepted Islam, they acknowledged a worldview and it is only natural that their thinking and outlook became compatible with Islamic teachings. Persian calligraphy is not excluded from the impact of Islam. The Quran represents the core of al Islamic teachings.
Dost thou know where the last spiritual plane of writing is?
A calligrapher who is named the scripter of the Holy Quran
Iranians not only adopted Islamic calligraphy but also contributed their own insights and beautified it even more.
KT: Iranian wisdom and alertness led to the discovery of the unexplored aesthetic areas in calligraphy. Ta'ligh script was initially adopted by Persian Monshis (plural form of monshi, meaning: clerk). Also known as the Tarassol style, this script was majorly adopted for letter writing. Persian poet Khaghani says:
O thou and thy hair curled more than the Tarasol script
I sit to beseech in hope before the skirt of your hair
Tarasol (Ta'ligh) is very cursive and full of arches. On the other hand, Naskh is rather flat and geometrical. The innovative Iranian mentality reconciles the curves and subtlety of Ta'ligh with the geometrical strength of Naskh and gives birth to the Naskhta'ligh (Nasta'ligh script) which before anything is a form of visual art. The harmonious and elegant flow of words and the ratio of empty to full space are artistically appealing. You can see the height of these features in the Siyah Mashgh (literally, black practice) which was originally a practice for calligraphers to warm up their hands but later it turned into a style on its own. This is particularly appealing to Westerns who are very impressed by the visual allure of Persian calligraphy, even if they cannot comprehend the meaning of the texts inscribed. Iran is known as the cradle of the Nasta'ligh script. In fact, the German orientalist, Annemarie Schimmel has a book on calligraphy and Islamic culture which was welcomed here. She studied Persian and Islamic calligraphy and published the book in the West. This is an instance of cultural trade where a book on arts gains added value due to cultural interaction. As the Persian poet, Sarkhosh Heravi says:
The bulbul sings this legend more dramatically
Sometimes the world of Persian arts as narrated by those outside the Persian realms seems even more exciting.
MAA: In your opinion, what are the features that actually distinguish Persian calligraphy from the calligraphy of other nations?
KT: Good question. When we speak of the Nasta'ligh or Shekasteh Nasta'ligh (literally, broken Nasta'ligh) scripts we are speaking of letters which represent graphic designs on their own. For instance, in the letter noon (n sound in Persian: ن) there is ample room for maneuver with the curve and the dot. This feature is not random but has been carved and refined through 800 years of calligraphic history and has always been under the aesthetic magnifying glass of experts. Every half a century or so, calligraphers have contributed to its variations here and there. These are only singular entities, so when each letter joins another in artistic spirit; it is no wonder that they form a body of art which transcends mere communication. It may be interesting to know that Iranians still love to read Persian poetry in cursive writing. This is why classical poetry books are in calligraphic fonts because the industrial print fonts cannot possibly live up to the core concept of Hafez's poems. Even Goethe, who was impressed by Hafez and Sa'di, wrote about the impact of Persian calligraphy in his Western-Eastern Divan. He even attempted Persian calligraphy during the last years of his life. This is the magic of Persian calligraphy, when it touches individuals it can turn the copper within into gold. Now if beautiful poems, such as the Ghazals of Hafez are represented in a beautiful script, the reader can explore visual aesthetic heights compatible with aesthetic concepts.
A decent soul, a beautiful face and good deeds
Are great when a pauper but sublime when a prince.
Persian poet Ibn-e Yamin (1286-1368)
If poetry is considered the first art of the Persians, calligraphy is the second. In fact, Persian calligraphy does not exclude poetry and literature.
MAA: Why is Nasta'ligh more prevalent compared to other scripts?
KT: Nasta'ligh is over 800 years old and it is the signature style of Persian calligraphy due to its vast visual qualities and elegance. Interestingly, in many Arabic and Islamic texts, it is referred to as the "Persian script" because it is very much synonymous with Persian calligraphy for its visual appeal.
MAA: So is it true that after Nasta'ligh there were no more invention of styles?
KT: There have been temporary trends in the history of calligraphy but they never matured into permanent styles.
MAA: And why is that?
KT: Firstly, the strong foundation of the geometric system of calligraphy today would overpower any new trend. In Shekasteh Nasta'ligh (broken Nasta'ligh) style, there were genius calligraphers like Darvish Abolmajid Taleghani (18th century) who passed away when he was only 35 but was at the height of creativity and Mir Emad Hassani (1554-1615) a brilliant artist who has exhausted almost all calligraphic possibilities. Even after 400 years of scrutiny we still haven’t been able to find the slightest fault with his script. Of course each calligrapher can always adopt his/her personal style within the framework of that genre.
MAA: Other than artistic gift and skills which are developed over time, a calligrapher engages with a world of certain mentality and spirituality. Could you please tell us a little about that?
KT: I used to teach calligraphy for some time at the International Center, University of Tehran where there were students from different parts of the world. After a certain period, international students would come to me and say that they felt much calmer and in control after they had started to practice. Practicing calligraphy is an insatiable activity and one can experiment artistically and unpredictably. You practice and practice and then you practice more until you somehow pave your way to perfection. This thirst for writing endows one with immense mental pleasure. Repetition of lines and curves in calligraphy are like the refrain of a poem, particularly when you practice writing the word of God, the Quran and mystical texts which are abundant in Persian Literature.
Poetry of Hafez is a ghazal abode of wisdom brick by brick
Laud his ensnaring breath and the refinement of his words
Persian poet of the 14th century, Hafez
O Sa'di, thou hast conquered the world with thy pen
Be grateful as this is none but a celestial bliss
The way thy ink has paved the world
Even the Dejleh River is not as fluent as this
Persian poet Sa'di
In fact, exploring calligraphic concepts in Persian literature would be an interesting study.
KT: Yes, of course, because it is so intertwined with the spiritual concepts in Persian poetry and literature. At the Iranian Calligraphers Association, we have students from different walks of life who study electronics, mathematics and other sciences at the university. We tell them that calligraphy is your cultural break hour. When they write sentences from Persian literature like, I am in love with all that flows, their artistic pleasure is magnified with the flow of ink. Once, a certain renowned Persian calligrapher had displayed a calligraphic frame of this poem by Khayyam in an exhibition in New York:
Rise and mourn not this transient world
The buyer who was very much impressed said that although he did not know the meaning of those words he was so impressed with the visual dynamics of that piece that had felt like he wanted to get up and actually start moving and do something. This is the magic of calligraphy.
Also, I once had a student who was suffering from melancholy. So I gave his workbook the title of "Omid Naameh" (literally, letter/book of hope). I asked him to practice calligraphy by writing hopeful and happy poems, like
Love is my livelihood and hope that this noble skill
Does not bring me despair like other arts did
Persian poet Hafez
MAA: And was the shift in his emotional state evident?
KT: Yes, very much. Of course, it was a gradual process. Likewise, when one of my male students was late for class one day because he had to help his wife with housework, I gave him the following verse by Rumi for classwork:
The beloved handed a broom and said to me
Go and raise dust from the deepest sea
So one may even say calligraphy is also replete with culturally didactic subtleties. There is a general calligraphic proverb that sometimes Iranian artists mention: Before we can raise the foundation of alef (first letter of Persian alphabet written like "I") we have to bend a letter like daal (10th letter of the Persian alphabet, roughly like a semi-circle). Patience and consistency are significant values in calligraphy.
MAA: Why is black the most prevalent color in calligraphy?
KT: There is no color above black (A Persian proverb). We also have rangineh nevisi (colorful scripts) as a tradition but because black ink lasts longer and it was easier to prepare and more accessible, it is also more prevalent.
MAA: Last question, what are the challenges ahead of calligraphers today?
KT: After the storm of technology and the advent of the printing industry, calligraphy had to endure a change in function. But there have always been passionate individuals who have kept the lamp of this art alive and bright. If the calligrapher today follows art for artistic satisfaction and spiritual sublimity, he/she will, in fact, have more golden opportunities ahead rather than challenges. But as we live in a society where we need to find an appropriate purpose for everything that we do, one could say we may face the challenge of earning a living from the art of calligraphy as our only source of income.
The painting-calligraphy combo
In the late 1950's and early1960's, a new movement in modern painting and calligraphy known as Naghashikhat emerged. This creative style which had originally evolved from the Saghakhaaneh school of art was the result of reconciliation between the two arts of Naghashi (literally, painting) and Khat (calligraphy) and in other words, the encounter of tradition and modern art. Due to this artistic expansion, Naghashikhat experts can explore artistic possibilities more innovatively and develop even more abstract styles within defined frameworks.
The major emphasis in Naghashikhat is on calligraphy. Painting and colors only embolden the visual appeal of calligraphic texts. While some experts have disapproved of this relatively new style, stating the "uniqueness" of calligraphy as an independent art, others have welcomed Naghashikhat as an extension of artistic realms.
After the Islamic Revolution (1979) calligraphy was embraced by a generation of younger artists who competed in mainstream and unconventional trends. Today, Naghashikhat has an exceptional place in Iranian visual arts and an ever growing number of calligraphers have contributed to the enrichment of this style, which has also prevailed outside Iran. Many calligraphy paintings are made of complex compositions. For instance, in the works of the Iranian artist Mohammad Ehsaei the essence of letters and compositions are extracted in order to create abstract works.
Faramarz Pilaram, Reza Maafi, Hossein Zendehroodi, Nasrollah Afjehei and Jalil Rasouli are among other notable contemporary Naghashikhat artists.
1- The Persian word for calligraphy is "khoshnevisi" and a calligrapher is known as "khoshnevis". Calligraphy is also synonymous with khat (literally, line or script) and khat neveshtan (writing script).
2- After the Islamic conquest of Persia, Iranians adopted the Perso-Arabic script and the art of Persian calligraphy flourished in Iran alongside other Islamic countries.
3- In the 19th century, the visual potentials of Nasta'ligh script were further explored by creating pieces known as Siyah Mashgh. Siyah Mashgh (literally, black practice) was originally a repetitive exercise of writing words and letters over and over again in order to rehearse and get ready for inscribing a new calligraphic text. When calligraphers realized the visual power of these pieces, Siyah Mashgh was developed into a new style. Words and letters are repeated numerously despite their meaning as they form a framework of complex compositions and styles where the typographic qualities of letters are displayed.
4- Mir Emad Hassani (1554 -1615) known to orientalists as Mir Emad is perhaps the most celebrated Persian calligrapher. It is believed that the Nasta'ligh style reached its highest elegance in Mir Emad's works. Other notable figures include Mirza Asadollah Shirazi, Mirza Gholamreza Esfehani and Mirza Mohammadreza Kalhor of the Qajar Period.
5- Iranian women calligraphers have also contributed to the history of Persian calligraphy, particularly Mir Emad's daughter Goharshad who was trained by her father. Many women in the Qajar courts were experts in the art of calligraphy, including Fakhrodolleh (Touran Aghaa) who was a Qajar princess and the daughter of Nasereddin Shah. Many of these princesses have also inscribed copies of the Holy Quran.
6- Computerized calligraphy is also a relatively new trend. The "IranNastaliq" font can be installed on Microsoft Word.
7- Calligraphic prints on fabric, particularly T-shirts are currently a popular trend.
8- The post-Islamic Iranian architecture is rich with surfaces that are harmoniously decorated with glazed tiles, carved stucco, patterned brickwork, floral motifs, and calligraphy. Scripts in various patterns and colors are used in the tilework of Iranian architecture.
9- In Iran, people of different age groups (from 7 to 70 plus years) and from different walks of life attend calligraphy courses.
10- It is estimated that about 80 percent of the students who sign up for calligraphy courses are women, perhaps because women comparatively have more free time for artistic dedication. Moreover, calligraphy has always been referred to as honar-e ghodsi va ma'navi (literally, sacred and spiritual art) and has hormat (literally, reverence) in public eyes.
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|Last Updated on 03 March 2012 11:46|