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Former refugee introduces Persian Calligraphy to New Zealand

23 November 2017

Former refugee introduces Persian Calligraphy to New Zealand in debut solo exhibition.

“Listen to the reed and the tale it tells, how it sings of separation: Ever since they cut me from the reed bed, my wail has caused men and women to weep”

Song of the Reed

Mawlana Jaluldeen Rumi[1]

The Reed Pen's Tale is the first New Zealand solo exhibition for Afghanistan born calligraphy artist, Sayed Ali Karam Jawhary [Ali]. The exhibition will feature 12 distinctive Persian calligraphic works inspired by one of Rumi’s famous poems, ‘Song of the Reed’. Rumi’s poem about the laments of the reed pen is a universal story – a story of humanity, of loneliness, universal pain, love and suffering caused by separation.

As Ali explains, “The tale of the bamboo or reed stalk that has been cut out from the reed bed and transplanted somewhere else – alone and pining for all those left behind – draws parallels with my own life journey, fleeing first from Afghanistan to Iran, and then finally from Iran to New Zealand”.

If you’re not familiar with Persian calligraphy, Ali’s work will resemble something from another era. And it quite literally is. Persian Calligraphy is a unique art form established around the 7th Century. Ancient Persian script is believed to have originated around 500-600 BC[2]. While unfamiliar in New Zealand, Ali’s calligraphy demonstrates both the intrinsic diversity of art, and its capacity to connect viscerally with the viewer.

Ali is a Master calligrapher, having practised calligraphy for 37 years. For him art is a universal language that transcends culture and travail, functioning as a sacred refuge.

Ali was forced to leave his home country of Afghanistan when he was 15 and take refuge in neighbouring Iran where he continued to live for many years, working as a professional sign writer and calligrapher. He also became involved with a group of artists who exhibited their works in a gallery in Qum city. This was the first time he exhibited his work publicly. He later had the opportunity to teach calligraphy to students at a private school.

In 2013, Ali was resettled in New Zealand, along with his son. His brother had previously been granted resettlement in New Zealand and later applied for a family reunification visa for Ali and his family[3].

Ali’s works draw inspiration from the words and philosophy of Persian poets of old, such as Mawlana Jaluldeen Balkhi Rumi, Hafiz, Saadi and Omar Khayyam, as well as world renowned classical musicians Mohammad-Reza Shahjarian and Ustad Sarahang.

The subject matter of his work is varied, combining personal experience with philosophy – it’s a conscious choice to choose beauty over suffering, by finding solace in the work of ancient and contemporary Persian writers.

“Calligraphy and poetry are very closely related. I like poetry so calligraphy is the best way to learn how to express how I feel. I try to tell my story and match it to a poem that is similar to my story”.

The calligraphic forms are made using hand carved bamboo calligraphy pens, which will also be on display in The Reed Pen’s Tale.

Ali’s ultimate goal is to introduce New Zealander’s to Persian Calligraphy and this exhibition resembles an important rite of passage in aligning with his new life in New Zealand.

Ali has received fantastic support to put together this exhibition from; Art for Change, New Zealand Red Cross, Depot Artspace and Auckland Refugee Family Trust.

The Reed Pen’s Tale will officially open on Friday 8 December, 6pm-8pm in the Vernacular Lounge, Depot Artspace, 28 Clarence St, Devonport with Persian sweets, music and poetry.

The Vernacular Lounge is an intimate gallery space at Depot Artspace which sheds a light on the influences that shape Aotearoa New Zealand’s evolving and distinctive cultural identity as defined by its art, architecture, literature, film and other cultural forms. The Reed Pen’s Tale further adds to and enriches the evolving cultural vernacular of Aotearoa.

The Reed Pen’s Tale runs from 2 December – 20 December 2017



Art for Change

Art for Change is a group of artists who want to use their art to help bring about positive change in the world. Their first event was a fund-raising exhibition - Where Shall We Call Home? for the benefit of refugees settling in New Zealand, which was held at Depot Artspace, Devonport, Auckland, 17th June - 5th July 2017.

Auckland Refugee Family Trust (ARFT)

The purpose of the Auckland Refugee Family Trust (ARFT) is to aid in family reunification for refugees in Aotearoa. Many refugees in New Zealand are alone or separated from family members who remain in unsafe situations overseas. They are desperate about the safety and survival of those relatives left behind and are unable to settle well until they are reunited. The ARFT raises funds and facilitates the family unification process, including visa’s, airfares and moving costs.

New Zealand Red Cross

Part of the largest humanitarian organisation in the world, the New Zealand Red Cross is committed to helping people wherever they might be - internationally or in our own communities. Their mission is to improve the lives of vulnerable people by mobilising the power of humanity and enhancing community resilience. The New Zealand Red Cross are the primary provider of refugee resettlement programmes in New Zealand, designed to support and empower new Kiwi’s as they rebuild their lives here.

Depot Artspace

Depot Artspace is an open and inclusive creative community in Devonport, Auckland that encourages engagement in all art forms. Depot Artspace offers a variety of facilities, services and events that support the creative community including galleries, a professional development programme, publications and a recording studio.

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