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How can the art of Arabic calligraphy offer a bridge between the material and the spiritual? The visual and the verbal? As a living tradition, Arabic calligraphy is a vital element of Islamic art. In this way, it offers an important platform for discussing the nature of, and intersections between, language, art and belief. The early development of Arabic calligraphy was intimately tied not only to the emerging civilisation of Islam, but also to innovations in writing materials and shifting perspectives on geometry and cosmology. Over centuries, Arabic calligraphy has evolved from its pre-Islamic conception to the modern styles of writing that are still in use today. The styles and techniques that were codified and elaborated through Arabic calligraphy’s evolution continue to be taught. Through the master–apprenticeship system, classes still take place at universities, wakfs (religious endowment and charitable trusts) and renovated medrese (educational institutions). Under the patronage of the Ottomans, Istanbul became the main centre for learning the art of Arabic calligraphy and continues in this legacy today.
In this talk, Soraya Syed describes her journey and practice as a calligrapher. Drawing on her experience as an apprentice in Istanbul and a practicing artist in London, she illustrates both the spiritual and practical aspects of Arabic calligraphy.
Soraya Syed is a classically trained calligrapher, artist and filmmaker. She is considered the first Briton to receive the coveted icazetname, or calligraphy license, from Istanbul in 2005. She is part of an unbroken silsila, or chain of transmission, that goes back centuries. While embracing traditional techniques and materials, her recent practice incorporates new digital media. In this way, Soraya continually works to push the boundaries of what is expected from this traditional art form. She takes the written word off the page into film, dance and VR and has worked with the likes of the British Museum and Royal Shakespeare Company. Her work is exhibited and collected globally. Soraya currently works from her studio in West London.