Monday, 23 April 2012, 07:27 GMT
Calligraphy art vanishes in Kurdistan

A man uses digital printing machine./Globe Photo by Muhammad Najat

The Kurdish Globe
By Zakaria Muhammed--Erbil

Digital printing machines weaken livelihoods of calligraphers

With the development of digital printing, businesspeople and shopkeepers prefer to advertise their products and services via rented billboards and screen-printed placards. If someone walks by Erbil's downtown market, he can rarely see boards written by a calligrapher in the streets or on the walls of shops.

Inside his calligraphy office located near the Citadel, Muhammad Hussein practiced writing on paper just to kill time. He said, "The printing houses are doing our jobs nowadays. No one cares what the importance of calligraphy is. If things continue to go this way, the art will vanish very soon."

Hussein blames the slowly vanishing art's problems on the government, saying it doesn't consider it an art anymore. "Some people tell us that our art is not vital anymore since computers can do better. But I don't think this is right because some designers at the printing houses have only imitated our jobs--they added nothing new to the art of calligraphy."

Asked why some calligraphers use printing machines and computers to attract customers, Hussein said, "I hate to do printing but this is what people want. Whoever understands the importance of handwriting still asks us to use paints and brushes to write on their shops' hanging boards."

Right near Hussein's office are many printing houses for large format digital printing such as billboard printing, over-sized indoor and outdoor hanging banners, front-lit and backlit banners as well as screen printing.

"Celestial flex, which is a laminated PVC vinyl fabric that is excellent as solvent digital printing and banner substrates, is widely used. We also make flags and provide advertisement services for clients with special needs," said Ari Shwan, who runs a printing house.

According to Shwan, the printing houses do a different job from what calligraphers do; he believes those who call themselves calligraphers shouldn't allow themselves to use computers and do designs for advertisement boards, for instance. "We are not working at the expense of calligraphers at all. We do something and they do something else. It is not us who do their jobs, but it is them sometimes who do our jobs," noted Shwan.

Najat Anwar Qadir, 58, a well-known Kurdish calligrapher from Erbil city, told The Kurdish Globe that the art of calligraphy became completely ignored after digital printing houses opened in Kurdistan. "No one recognizes the works of good calligraphers since what a good calligrapher does can be done by the worst calligraphers by using printing machines. Nowadays everything is done by computer, which has almost destroyed calligraphers' works; now many works of calligraphy are made by computer. I know people who nothing about the art who call themselves calligraphers. This is really frustrating," complained Qadir.

Now Qadir mainly focuses on ornamenting mosques; in fact, he single-handedly ornamented the biggest mosque in Kurdistan region, Jalil Khayat Mosque in Erbil. He also ornamented the Big Mosque in Suleimaniya city as well as several big mosques in Turkey.

Qadir, founder of Kurdistan Calligraphers Association, just started decorating two mosques in Erbil; he needs 30 to 45 days to finish each. According to him, the art of calligraphy is greatly admired in other countries and an important tourist attraction. "There is an academy of calligraphy in Turkey where competitions are organized for handwritings. In Kurdistan, we have very good calligraphers who take part in international competitions and get excellent results."

Qadir used to hold calligraphy courses and he has trained many a successful calligrapher. One, Sabah Maghdid, often places first in international competitions.

Qadir hopes the government establishes a school and appoints top calligraphers to train others so that the art of calligraphy never disappears.