Long before the first digital pixel, architects and builders were using bricks and tiles to create pixelated patterns on structures. The technique, which is still in use today, is known as banna’i and was developed in the Middle East in the 8th century. The brick, as a building material, dates back to around 7500 BC in the upper Tigris area and Anatolia. To display text in banna’i, artisans employ mostly the Kufi calligraphic style, known for transforming the traditionally curved lines of Arabic into straight lines and sharp angles, alternating glazed and bare bricks to write out prayers (like fancy bitmap fonts) or replicate geometric patterns.
By chance, a few weeks ago I came across an audio recording of an interview that I did with the late Iranian filmmaker and photographer Abbas Kiarostami in May 2013, when he was having an exhibition of his “Snow Series” (1999–2002) photographs at Rossi & Rossi gallery in Hong Kong. In the past few days, after learning that the legendary Iranian cineaste had died in Paris on July 4, I listened to that interview again and transcribed it. Our conversation lasted less than 30 minutes and Kiarostami was tired from his trip and eager to finish a pack of cigarettes that he claimed would be his last. We spoke through an interpreter, although Kiarostami understood many of my questions. He wore his trademark sunglasses while we sat at a desk in the back room of the gallery, so it was hard to see his eyes. He didn’t particularly seem to enjoy talking about his own photographs, and it took some time before he would give up information about them or about what he thought of the works. But his own comparison between the “Snow Series” and Japanese sumi-e brush-painting best revealed the kind of meditative precision he sought, as well as the kind of relationship to nature he was evoking. Though very different than his socially oriented films, his photographs are similarly pared down and intensely focused, and should also be seen as an effort to get directly to the essence of things.
By Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
This copy of the Shāhnāmah is thought to date originally from the 15th century. Unfortunately it has no colophon but it was extensively refurbished in India at the beginning of the 17th century when the 90 illustrations were added. These are numbered consecutively 1-91, only lacking no. 37 which, together with a gap of about 150 verses, is missing at the beginning of the story of Bīzhan and Manīzhah between folios 201v and 202r. The manuscript was altered again in the first half of the 18th century when elaborate paper guards and markers were added. The magnificent decorated binding, however, dates from the early 17th century.
Honda Kōichi Arabic calligrapher. Born in 1946 in Kanagawa Prefecture. President of the Japan Arabic Calligraphy Association and a professor of international relations at Daitō Bunka University. In 1969, graduated from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, where he studied Arabic. Joined the Pacific Aerial Survey Co. in 1975 and spent the next five years in the Middle East, where he picked up the basics of Arabic calligraphy. Continued to study calligraphy on his own after returning to Japan under the long-distance guidance of Turkish calligrapher Hasan Çelebi, from whom he received his “Ijaza” diploma as a master calligrapher in 2000. Has won numerous awards for his work, starting with the Jury’s Encouragement Prize at the 1990 International Arabic Calligraphy Contest. His published works include Pasupōto shokyū Arabiago jiten (The Passport Beginner’s Arabic Dictionary), Arabiago no nyūmon (An Introduction to Arabic) and Arabia moji o kaite miyō yonde miyō (Try Writing and Reading Arabic), as well as a collection of his calligraphy works titled Arabia shodō no uchū (The Universe of Arabic Calligraphy).
It is difficult to create art in isolation,” says master calligrapher Khwaja Qamaruddin Cheshti. The artist “needs to be surrounded by older art, and maybe he combines his skills with the inspiration he finds in older pieces.”
Cheshti is speaking through a translator from the Turquoise Mountain Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture in Kabul, Afghanistan. A restored, 19th-century fort in the historic Murad Khane neighborhood, its alcoves topped with delicately pointed arches, it is a fitting backdrop to speak about two weeks he and more than a dozen Afghan artists and craftspeople spent in Doha, Qatar, at the Museum of Islamic Art—or mia—where Cheshti rediscovered this age-old truth.
This is the first of a number of posts which will explore the palette of the Ruzbihan Qur’an, the spectacular 16th century Persian manuscript currently at the centre of our exhibition Lapis and Gold: The story of the Ruzbihan Qur’an.
In late 2013 and early 2014, two rounds of non-invasive scientific analysis helped to identify the pigments used by calligrapher Ruzbihan Muhammad al-Tab‘i al-Shirazi and his team of artists. The pigment analysis was part of a larger research project to increase our knowledge of mid-16th century Shirazi artists’ materials and techniques, contributing to a fuller understanding of the working methodologies of Islamic book artists at this time.
Examining folios from the Ruzbihan Qur’an (CBL Is 1558) with scientists from MOLAB® (left) and curator Dr Elaine Wright (right) in the conservation lab.
The European Commission funded MOLAB® Transnational Access Service, sponsored two teams of dedicated scientists, who…
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