Beautiful Lines on Elegant Fabrics

sara #6, photo

A new Apple commercial begins by puffing up an ordinary yellow No.2 pencil: “It’s an extremely simple tool, but also extremely powerful…it can be used to start a poem or finish a symphony…it has transformed the way we create”.

But in the end the pencil is whisked away to reveal all these compliments were really intended for the new iPad Air—a capable tool weighing just one pound. The concept is clever, and the poor lead pencil comes out looking practically archaic. If pencils are on the way out, can we assume that arts such as calligraphy will go the way of cave etchings—an amusing yet soon-to-be-abandoned specimen?

Different cultures have their own styles—Tibetan, Chinese or Mayan. There is even a contemporary style of calligraphy. Islam and Arabic languages are particularly well-suited to the form as the letters, which are composed of dots, lines, and curves are functional but also visually pleasing. Even those who do not understand the language can enjoy how it looks. For Muslims, calligraphy is very much a visible expression of the spiritual world. Even in today’s digital age this beautiful writing continues to evolve in classrooms, online, and in the modern art scene.

The August 2013 blog White Room Covered in Farsi on shows just how innovative calligraphy can be. The piece describes Germany-based Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar’s ongoing series known as Written Room. In the exhibit Forouhar scrawls beautiful, black, large-scale lettering atop stark white walls, floors, ceilings and doorways. The script crawls and flows. It’s a striking effect that illustrates old-meets-new, sadness and whimsy. It is in fact how Forouhar describes her own experience as an immigrant, stating “I feel at home in Germany but, at the same time, not. I feel at home in Iran and then not. What I’m doing with my art is just cultivating this space in between.” explores the history of the craft, explains the tools artists use, features videos and shows examples of ancient and modern works. The website’s founder and graphic designer Elizabeth Kvernen says she has seen the number of websites and apps devoted to Arabic script calligraphy and Islamic art grow exponentially in the last couple of years.

“I’ve seen lots of artists doing interesting work that is based on traditional calligraphy,” she says, “using all kinds of media,from graffiti art to light painting to textiles.”

Artist Majid Roohafza respects classic tradition, but he can’t resist taking his art somewhere new. The accomplished calligrapher was nine years old when he began dabbling in ink. He recently exhibited work at Meet at the Moment, a Persian Calligraphy & Illumination exhibition at Duke University and later on at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

As a child at school Roohafza was encouraged in his talent by some of Iran’s top calligraphy masters. He recalls: “It was so enticing and captivating, and I loved to learn that!” I was following those directions of calligraphy and I just happened to be good. I had a good hand and passion to fall in love with that practice.”

He says his work is a practice in visual memory and muscle memory. It is both creative and mathematically precise. “Each project could be like an engineering project requiring many tools, materials, preparation and imagination.” he says.

When Roohafza came to the U.S. in 2006 to pursue engineering he said in regards to his art, “everything changed.” Now because his audience was less likely to translate Farsi he had to convey his message in a new, interesting and abstract way with a universal language.

Inspired by nature, Roohafza is specializing in Nastaliq and Cursive-Nastaliq, the two forms of Persian calligraphy. Besides performing in classic and abstract, he turned to fashion, fabric, and the male and female forms, with its own series of beautiful and strong lines. He wants to create casual clothing that “brings calligraphy to everybody and every budget.”

He is also working on more personalized, custom-made pieces that are adorned with hand-made poetry and fine fabric—lovely gowns created in the course of an interview and consultation. The high end gowns are a throwback to old Hollywood days.

It’s curious to imagine anyone wholeheartedly practicing this unique skill in an age where print and ink have been replaced touch pads, poetry is rarely a bestseller, and some elementary schools have thrown out cursive handwriting instruction entirely.

Luckily, now and then good sense prevails. Reed College in Portland, Oregon recently voted to return calligraphy to its curriculum after a twenty-eight year absence. According to Reed Magazine’s December 2012 article, as part of the new Calligraphy Initiative the school’s religion Professor Kambiz GhaneaBassiri and Cooley Gallery director Stephanie Snyder are working on an exhibition of Persian and Arabic calligraphy 2014 to coincide with a residency by Persian calligraphy scholar Hamid Reza Ghelichkhani. For now instructor Inga Dubay and a class of nearly 30 students, faculty and alumni labor happily over propped-up canvases and “two-stroke O’s”.

Calligraphy is not merely a hobby for Roohafza but a personal mission. “Persian calligraphy has not been introduced to art communities the way it deserves, and there is no one to blame but ourselves (the artists),” he says. “There’s a lot more to do, a lot more that art lovers can learn and enjoy”.

Driven by this passion, he is actively looking to teach and share Persian calligraphy in local universities, museums and art galleries, and globally with social media. He believes art is a universal language and an open window to the world.