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Refugee Artist Ali Jawhary Brings Persian Calligraphy To Life

The Reed Pen’s Tale Continues: To be one in heart

November 19-December 16, 2020, Depot Artspace, 28 Clarence St, Devonport, Auckland

Official opening: 2pm, Saturday 21 November

“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, by Mawlana Jaluldeen Rumi

The Reed Pen's Tale Continues: To be one in heart is Afghanistan-born calligraphy artist Sayed Ali Karam Jawhary's second solo exhibition in New Zealand, and features eight distinctive Persian calligraphic works.

For Ali Jawhary, who came to Aotearoa as a refugee in 2013, art is a universal language, a sacred refuge that transcends culture and travail. He draws inspiration from Persian poetry and music, and his unique works combine personal experience with philosophy.

Ali’s art resembles something from another era. For him, it is a conscious effort to choose beauty over suffering, while finding solace in the work of ancient and contemporary Persian writers.

Persian calligraphy is an art form established around the 7th century, and ancient Persian script originated around 500-600 BC. Ali uses Nastalīq and Shikasta Nastalīq styles of calligraphy and is a master calligrapher, having practised the art for 37 years.

His works are inspired by the words and philosophy of Persian poets such as Mawlana Jaluldeen Rumi, Hafiz, Saadi and Omar Khayyam, as well as classical musicians Mohammad-Reza Shahjarian and Ustad Sarahang.

“Calligraphy and poetry are very closely related,” he says. “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”.

Ali uses hand-carved bamboo calligraphy pens to depict Persian script and symbols. His use of Persian calligraphy demonstrates the intrinsic diversity in art, and invites viewers to connect with an ancient art form - an often visceral connection.

When he was only 15, Ali was forced to flee his homeland of Afghanistan and take refuge in neighbouring Iran, where he became a professional sign writer and calligrapher. He also learned about the best calligraphers, which challenged him to develop his artistic practice. He became involved with a group of artists who exhibited their works in a gallery in Qum city, and also taught calligraphy to students at a private school.

Ali and his son came to live in New Zealand seven years ago under the family reunification programme for refugees. Their family was the first helped by the Auckland Refugee Family Trust, which raises money to bring the families of refugees to New Zealand. The trust has since helped to reunite more than 60 families.

Two years ago, Ali fulfilled his dream to introduce New Zealanders to Persian calligraphy, by holding his first exhibition at Depot Artspace. This new exhibition is another opportunity to share more of his unique art.

“Everyone has feelings - how they feel and think about life and love,” he says. “This calligraphy is the way I tell people how I feel.”

Ali is receiving support for his exhibition from Art for Change, New Zealand Red Cross and Auckland Refugee Family Trust.

The Reed Pen’s Tale Continues is on display at Depot Artspace, 28 Clarence St, Devonport from November 19 to December 16, 2020. The official opening is 2pm, Saturday, November 21.

For images from Ali’s previous exhibition, see his Facebook profile:

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