In order to preserve the centuries-old tradition of Islamic calligraphy and promote awareness about this rich form of art, the Pakistan Embassy in Riyadh organized a high-profile show, which was inaugurated by President of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) Prince Sultan bin Salman on Monday night.
The exhibition, which is described as “a first step in an ambitious plan to boost cultural cooperation between the two countries,” features 200 rare pieces, rich in overtones of Islamic spirituality, drawn and painted in different mediums by 20 master calligraphers of Pakistan.Speaking after formally cutting the ribbon to mark the opening of the calligraphy exhibition, Prince Sultan said: “In my humble assessment, I can tell you that the calligraphic pieces displayed in the exhibition today rank with the best works of art from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, other parts of the Middle East and Islamic world at large in terms of style and content.”
He said the exhibition features the best works of Pakistani calligraphers, which in fact provide viewing joy to art lovers in general.The grand opening ceremony was attended by members of the royal family, high-ranking Saudi officials, a large number of diplomats and members of the Pakistani community. Prominent among those present on the occasion were Prince Faisal bin Saud; Alauddin Alaskari, deputy foreign minister for protocol affairs; Dr. Nasir Al-Hujailan, deputy minister for culture and information; and Mustafa M.H. Kawthar, the ambassador responsible for the Asian desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Pakistani Ambassador Muhammad Naeem Khan accompanied Prince Sultan and other Saudi officials in taking a round of the show to see the calligraphic work. The show will be open from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on a daily basis for visitors until March 2.Speaking to reporters after taking a round of the show, Prince Sultan said Islamic calligraphy was yet another link binding the two countries that also enjoy strategic relations.“I very much enjoyed coming to the embassy on the invitation of the Pakistani ambassador,” said Prince Sultan.
Saudi Arabia has learned a lot from Pakistan in many fields, he added, while complimenting the contributions of Pakistani professionals.Asked about the progressively growing relations between Riyadh and Islamabad, Prince Sultan said: “We in the tourism sector is learning from Pakistan’s experience, while the private sectors of the two countries are building strong commercial relations.”In reply to a question about the move to simplify visa procedures to enable people from Pakistan and other Asian countries to visit Saudi Arabia, he said: “The Umrah Plus visa will be the first window of opportunity for different groups, especially Pakistanis.”
Prince Sultan showed keen interest in the artwork displayed on the occasion and spent more than one hour seeing the paintings and socializing with people.Expressing his joy on the opening of the calligraphy exhibition, Ambassador Khan said: “This is for the first time that we brought this show to Riyadh in which 20 master artists from Pakistan are participating. Pakistan had splendid cultural heritage, which had greatly contributed to the flourishing of Islamic art in the sub-continent.”
The masterpieces displayed are contemporary as well as classic in style and nature, said the diplomat. He said he received a huge response and encouragement from the Saudi side to organize this event. He, however, pointed out that this show is the first step of an ambitious plan that has been formulated to boost cultural cooperation further.The embassy, he said, is planning to organize a Pakistani miniature art exhibition in the near future.The miniature art show will be organized in Riyadh and then move to Jeddah, he added. The two countries are also planning to boost cooperation between their respective museums, he said.
“I am also now encouraging Pakistani poets to come here and I will invite some cultural troupes in days to come to perform here as well,” he added.Khan said the embassy was just trying to offer a wide variety of art and culture for fans to enjoy. This is a great chance for people in Riyadh to see the work of great masters, he added.“In almost all Muslim societies, almost every household is decorated with some kind of Islamic calligraphy, featuring different verses from the Holy Qur’an or some other words from Islamic theology,” said the ambassador, adding the pieces displayed at the show look more ornamental in one’s office or house.
He pointed out that the art of calligraphy dates back to a period when writing began. It is a type of visual art often called the art of fancy lettering. A contemporary definition of calligraphic practice is the art of giving a form to signs in an expressive, harmonious and skillful manner.
The great calligraphers whose work has been displayed at the exhibition include Ibne Kaleem, Irfan Ahmed Khan, Khalid Javed Yusufi, Elahi Bakhsh Mutee, Khurshid Gohar Qalam, Muhammad Ali Qadri, Ahmed Ali Bhutta, Hafiz Anjum Mehmood, Muhammad Ali Zahid, Rashid Seyal, Muhammad Kashif Khan, Tasneem Inam, Afrah Faiz, Abdul Razzaq Razi, Ashraf Heera, Aslam Kamal, Rana Riaz Ahmed and Hafeezullah. The work of the current Chief Khattat of Masjid Al-Nabawi Shafiq uz Zaman Khan, and former Naqqash of Masjid Al-Nabawi Asghar Ali are also among the exhibits.
Giving his opinion about the calligraphic pieces, guest at the show Faisal Rasheed, who works at a local PR and advertising company, said Arabic script has been an important part of Islam’s cultural heritage for centuries. “The spread of Islam during the eighth century had a deep impact on every aspect of people’s life including their perception of art; and this is evident from the show at the embassy,” he added.
The desire and effort to reproduce in beautiful and creative characters verses of the Holy Qu’ran eventually generated the new art of calligraphy in Muslim societies, he noted.“In fact, Muslim calligraphers were doing marvels with form and content in Pakistan,” said another guest, Dr. Javid Akhtar of King Saud University. He pointed out that Islam, and as a result calligraphy, came to the sub-continent through the conquest of Sindh by Mohammad bin Qasim in 712 AD, and reached its peak during the reign of the Mughal emperors. In the area that now comprises Pakistan, Lahore undoubtedly has held the title of being the center of calligraphy in the country.
In Pakistani culture, the ability to write and to write well in a clear hand are signs of good breeding and of a well-rounded education; thus, the young nation has produced many outstanding calligraphers, including Sadequain. Dubbed the “Picasso of Pakistan,” Sadequain’s art was unique in that it showed non-conformity and protest intertwined with a sense of impending martyrdom.There are more than a dozen names of artists and calligraphers who are now internationally acclaimed, he added.