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Calligraphy: An expression of piety.

Byline: Molouk Ba-Isa

TWO complementary exhibitions at the Asia Society Museum in New York City explore Islam's quintessential art form, calligraphy. "Traces of the Calligrapher: Islamic Calligraphy in Practice, c. 1600-1900" and "Writing the Word of God: Calligraphy and the Qur'an" demonstrate the breadth and beauty of Islamic calligraphy and the traditions of its practice across several centuries and two continents.

Together, these exhibitions examine the artistry of the tools used to create masterful works, plus show examples of calligraphy, such as practice exercises, manuscripts and folios from the Qur'an, and illustrate the social prestige associated with calligraphy. Approximately 150 objects and works from an important private collection in Houston, from the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums and the Morgan Library & Museum, convey the elegance of the esteemed art form and reveal the skills of the many artisans - calligraphers, paper makers, gold beaters, illuminators, bookbinders, and metalworkers, to name a few - involved in the creation of the tools, the calligraphies and the manuscript folios.

"Traces of the Calligrapher" maps the practice of the calligrapher from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, both through examples of calligraphy as well as through tools of the trade. The objects in the exhibition come from Iran, Turkey and India, and include reed pens, penknives and maktas, in addition to inkwells, scissors, burnishers, storage boxes and writing tables. The fine craftsmanship of these objects is revealed in their exquisite and detailed designs, which often employ precious materials such as jade, agate, ivory, ebony, silver, and gold. Calligraphic practice exercises and fair copies are displayed alongside these implements, and a video shows a master calligrapher at work. Together, the objects and their output present a comprehensive overview of the intimate world of the calligrapher and the environment in which he worked.

"Writing the Word of God: Calligraphy and the Qur'an" is devoted to key developments of the Islamic scripts of distinct cultural areas, spanning from Spain and North Africa to Greater Iran from the seventh to the fifteenth centuries. A selection of approximately twenty folios from now dispersed Qur'ans from the regions, illustrate the rich variety and system of scripts.

The exhibitions are supported by online resources, which not only show key items from the exhibits but also explain their use in context. The online materials at help the viewer understand the functionality of the tools employed in calligraphy and the extensive training and practice required to become a master at the art. And of course the magnificent results of such dedication are displayed as well.

Individuals with a broadband connection can view the opening lecture ( by Mary McWilliams, curator at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard Art Museum, which illuminated the moral, sensory and professional dimensions of Islamic calligraphy. In the Islamic world, calligraphy is revered as a medium of infinite duration and a visual expression of faith. McWilliams took a close look at some of the outstanding calligraphic works in the exhibitions to explicate both those meanings and the works' aesthetic beauty.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Nov 4, 2008
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