Arabic words transform to art as Marhana works her magic
For centuries, the beauty of flowing curves and angular lines of the Arabic font has been preserved and protected in a beautiful art form, calligraphy. From the enchanting arabesque mosaics lining the walls of mosques, to the flowing scriptures of the Holy Qur’an, from international logos made by converting an Arabic word to a thing of intricate beauty to personal monograms with one’s name on it, the beauty and detail of Arabic calligraphy is as popular now as it was millennia ago.
Calligraphy is not an easy art form, it requires patience and an attention to detail many of us do not possess. It requires creativity, imagination and most importantly, a dedication to the art. It also requires an indepth understanding of the Arabic language and how the words are formed so as to turn them into a thing of complex beauty. With this backdrop, The Bottom Line caught up with a Sri Lankan who has been creating beautiful works of calligraphy for the last 25-years.
Marhana Nazeem is a talented calligrapher who already had two exhibitions in Sri Lanka and another in Malaysia to her credit. She is a full time mom and part time artist, but that doesn’t stop her from creating these intricate works of art. “I spend five hours each day working on my calligraphy,” she explained as I realize just how nimble your hands must be to create those swirls and flawless lines.
“I love to do it because it is a combination of art and religion, two things that are very important to me,” she explained. Calligraphy is a reflection of Islamic culture, one that was imperative in preserving the religion as what it is today, because the art of calligraphy ensured that the Qur’an was recorded verbatim and protected in writing.
Marhana started creating calligraphy as she schooled at Muslim Ladies College, Colombo and has never looked back since. “I had plenty of support from my father who encouraged me to study this art and now I am supported by my husband,” she said with a grin. Marhana was first trained under Calligraphy master M.B.M.Ghouse, but her talent has ensured that her work has received recognition not only in Sri Lanka but in Malaysia as well.
She also wants to share the joy in the art of calligraphy and conducts classes at her home and at the Iranian Embassy. “Not many people do calligraphy but there is a great demand for it,” she said explaining that each week she receives several orders for calligraphic representations of the various verses (surahs) from the Qur’an that people use to adorn their new homes or celebrate an important event.
Although, one of her designs now adorns the Kollupitiya Jummah Mosque eternally etched in cement, calligraphy isn’t still as widespread an art among the Muslim community here as it is in Arabia. Some of the more popular uses of calligraphy can be seen prominently in the Qatar based Al-Jazeera news network, where the words are converted into a tear drop shaped logo for the organisation.
So is calligraphy hard to accomplish? “Not at all,” she tells me, “it’s all about balance and patience. It is how you hold the brush and how you use your imagination.”
There are seven different scripts or styles of creating Arabic calligraphy and each revolves around how the letters are designed and placed in relation to one another. Marhana specialises in the Zuluzi style more frequently found in Pakistan and Sri Lanka where a complete surah from the Qur’an can be transformed into a work of art. Marhana explained that this ornamental scripture is also popular for monogrammes on wedding cards or Eid (festival) greetings as well. If creatively thought of, calligraphy can spell a whole new dimension of art. As for me, there is something mesmerising about words that are also works of art and Marhana has found herself a new fan.