Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Hath flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.
This beautiful quote is from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the opening lines of an Iranian poem about lifestyle and philosophy. These days we seldom think of the poets and artists whose beautiful and elegant poetry has helped shape the world.
My father is Iranian, but I was raised in New Zealand by a European family & I have always had a fascination with the beauty of their Art and Poetry. With this in mind, I jumped at the chance to meet Afghani artist Sayed Ali Karam Jawary, who has studied for more than 30 years in Nastaaliq Calligraphy, earning him an accomplished reputation as an Iranian calligraphist.
How did you start Nastaaliq Calligraphy, and what drew your interest to this art form?
Ali – I started in Afghanistan; the alphabet is similar to Nastaaliq calligraphy. So, I guess my interest started at seven years old in school. However, I had to flee the country due to warfare. Thus, I left and moved to Iran at 17/18 years old and saw an opportunity to take a Nastaaliq art calligraphy course, and my interest grew from there.
The Nasstaaliq calligraphy you create rotates around a particular poem or passage from ‘Ancient Persian Poets.’ What do you think is more critical the visual Art or the written words?
Ali- I don’t think it is possible to separate the two; they both go hand in hand.
Going back to our earlier conversation about how you came to New Zealand as a refugee. It really hits home with me as my father was also a refugee although, he is from Iran.
When I ask my father about how he feels about Iran or even when he talks about Iran periodically. He says that when he left and came to New Zealand there was nothing in Iran. Although in saying it that, He still firmly holds ties to his Iranian culture, this relates mainly to the ‘The Reed’ flute song.
“Ever since they tore me from my osier bed, my plaintive notes have moved men and women to tears. … ‘Tis the fire of love that inspires the flute, ’tis the ferment of love that possesses the wine”
In the poem, many similar situations and quotes can relate to this experience of my father’s/would you agree?
Ali- I can completely agree that’s an interesting point too. I tried to bring through that message in the exhibition. I can strongly relate to how he’s feeling.
What has been your most treasured art piece?
Ali- Perhaps the one I use on my business cards. Inspired by Rumi ‘Raise your world, not your voice.’
Ali, you have a very interesting/traditional way of crafting your art pieces through using a bit of bamboo as a pen and ink; where do you get your art supplies?
Ali-I usually get the bamboo from a park near my house and the ink I found in an art shop.
What’s the process of your art /how long does it take?
Ali- The process of my Art depends on my psyche that day and how I’m feeling. I usually listen to the famous Persian singer Shajarian. Though calligraphy, unlike other art mediums, you have to start again if you make any mistake. Though going back to how I’m feeling that day, it can usually take an estimation of between one day and two weeks to finish.
How do you hope to inspire others wanting to get into Nastaaliq calligraphy?
Ali-Well, they have to be absolutely madly in love with their Art as I am.
And finally, Ali what does the future hold for you, and are you planning another exhibition?
Ali- Yes, I am, though it was supposed to sooner than now called ‘To be One Heart’ and to continue to teach and educate people through Art, as I believe that’s my duty and to quote Rumi, “we came to make this earth beautiful.”
In Meeting Ali, I realised that the depth and beauty of Middle Eastern Art was somewhat overlooked either due to religious turmoil or war or just plain. Though as to quote Rumi, I realised I have to “seek what is seeking you. “Though most will find that difficult, though in the meeting I felt I was on the right journey to discovering my culture and identity and the only way forward was to ‘Seek’ “wherever you stand to be the soul of that place ‘Rumi
Story by Lee Lee Williams