Catriona Robertson

journeys at home and abroad

Jewels of Islamic calligraphy

Detail of the coloured inks

Karen Armstrong was top of the bill at the British Museum this evening, but I was entranced by Islamic calligrapher Mustafa Ja’far at work, tucked away in Room 34.

Turkish (swirly and contained), Farsi (sweeping and wispy) and Arabic (strong and more linear) styles appeared boldly on the shiny white paper from squeaky bamboo pens and clear, strong inks in all the colours of boiled sweets.

Mustafa allowed me to take home his demonstration script of an ancient poem by Rumi.

When I am with you we stay up all night
When you’re not here, I cannot go to sleep.
Thank God for these two insomnias
and the difference between them

Many different interpretations of this one.

Calligrapher Mustafa Ja'far at work

You can appreciate this kind of calligraphy in two ways: through the words (although in highly stylised work it can be hard to read the actual text) and through the beauty of the visual art.  Calligraphy in this tradition is an expressive art – there is great freedom for the artist to use the shapes and movement of the script to create stunning or meditative pieces.  Very different from the Japanese tradition of great preparation followed by a burst of spontaneity – and also from the British tradition which seems to be more formal.

Rumi's poem in Farsi (Persian) script

Mustafa Ja’far’s website (he lectures at Birkbeck) contains an extraordinary range of work.  He put on an exhibition two years ago BLACK WORDS IN RED INK: Iraq War in a Calligraphic Installation – I wish I had seen it.  This evening I asked where he was from and he said Iraq.  I mumbled something about ‘how difficult’ which was wholly inadequate.  Should we apologise for the UK’s part in Iraq’s history on occasions like this, or would that be even worse, and pompous to boot?  Either way, we Londoners benefit from welcoming people from all kinds of places and for all sorts of reasons and today I was the lucky one.


This entry was posted on 24 June 2010 by in London and tagged , , , .
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