We often think of writing and art as two separate mediums, but can’t handwriting itself be an art form?
Younasse Tarbouni, associate professor of Arabic at the University of Washington, led a workshop on Arabic calligraphy, a style of expression that brings art and writing together to meet at an expertly harmonious intersection, Thursday and Friday October 10 and 11.
Arabic teacher in Wash. U. for 14 years, Tarbouni has a deep passion for the language that manifests itself in the very way he speaks it. Participants started by learning about different writing styles of Arabic calligraphy, such as Thuluth, Kufic and Riqa, to name a few. It quickly became clear that putting a definitive label on the number of existing scripts was no easy task; often a style would branch even further into numerous details and derivatives.
The two-day workshop was open to the public, drawing participants from across the Wash community. U. Each person came with a different level of expertise in calligraphy and the Arabic language itself, but everyone shared an enthusiasm to learn and try.
Sophomore Lydia Roesler plans to major in religious studies and shared that she “took up Arabic because of how beautiful it was, actually.”
“I was very excited to be in the workshop, learning how to make my script beautiful and not just my class scribbles,” she said.
After learning a bit more about the origins of various scripts, Tarbouni encouraged all of us to really spend some time getting to grips with letter writing. We needed a solid foundation before moving on to full calligraphic words and phrases. Back when he was in school practicing Arabic calligraphy, Tarbouni explained, the classroom went completely silent out of respect for the teacher and the art form.
For Tarbouni, calligraphy is an integral part of immersion in the Arabic language.
“It’s fun, it’s artistic, it makes you forget the structure of the classroom, but it’s at the heart of Arab history, religion and culture, etc.,” Tarbouni said. . “You can learn Arabic without calligraphy, but you’ll miss out on a lot of tradition.”
Many students at the workshop echoed this belief, including sophomore Milkise Yassin.
“I think Arabic calligraphy is important because it preserves a traditional practice found in many Arabic-speaking countries,” Yassin said.
This sense of “tradition” alluded to by both Yassin and Tarbouni represents the fascinating dynamic in which Arabic calligraphy is situated: it exists amidst years of rich Arabic history, but also extends its relevance as part of today’s society.
Arabic calligraphy is not an outdated, pre-modern form of artistic expression. Now more than ever, “calligraphy is being used as a tool for this younger generation to express themselves in different ways,” Tarbouni said. “And some of these books that we looked at [in the workshop]all the texts are a different way of expressing one’s political convictions, one’s religious convictions or both: merging the two.
Sophomore Hasan Salim shared similar sentiments regarding this creative outlet for expression, referring to images of tattoos containing Arabic calligraphy displayed by Tarbouni.
“If you don’t know what you’re looking at, they look like really cool models,” Salim said. “But you don’t realize there’s a meaning to that.”
Calligraphy is often admired for the beauty of its appearance, but we cannot fail to recognize the equally beautiful meaning behind every stroke and symbol.
There is no doubt that the approach can be daunting. Arabic is a Semitic language, meaning it belongs to a closely related subfamily of languages within the Afro-Asiatic phylum. To an unfamiliar eye, the alphabet alone can seem quite intimidating. But Richard Harrod, a research fellow in the Department of History, said studying the calligraphy of the Arabic language “kinda demystifies it for people”.
“I think a lot of people who don’t know Arabic are intimidated by the alphabet – it looks like a bunch of squiggles. “How can you read that? is something I hear a lot…but an alphabet is an alphabet like any other,” Harrod said. He pointed out that after seeing the way the alphabet is used as an art and the passion behind it, one gets a “very unique insight into Arab culture”.
Even for someone who has never spoken a word of Arabic in their life, calligraphy can still be an incredibly rewarding opportunity.
Asked about his hopes for the future, Tarbouni said he plans to offer a workshop again in the spring.
“And if there’s funding – serious funding for it – we can have a competition or bring a professional calligrapher to campus.”