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Benton: Students learn the fine art of Persian Calligraphy

By Margaux Ancel
On February 28, 2014

On Thursday, students were invited to participate in a Persian calligraphy workshop, organized in relation to the UConn Reads Committee exhibition "Persepolis: Word & Image."
Civil engineering professor Arash Zaghi led the workshop and taught students how to compose various basic letters of the Persian alphabet with bamboo calligraphy pens he had carved for the occasion.
The workshop began with a tour of the exhibition, which opened at the Benton Museum of Art on Jan. 21. Assistant curator Ally Johnson and Zaghi introduced the works, from artists such as Pouran Jinchi and Afarin Rahmanifar, who worked with Persian calligraphy to create their art works.
"Calligraphy comes so stylized sometimes that it's illegible," Johnson explained. "The Islamic artists would know the structure so well that they wouldn't need to read it. They would just experience the curves and the forms and know what they meant."
Pouran Jinchi's paintings are composed of repeated words and letters in consciously chosen colors. "They show the power of Persian calligraphy," Zaghi said. "The meaning is in the artist's mind, and what you see on paper is the product of that meaning."
Professor Zaghi introduced some of his own works with calligraphy to students. "I listen to the same music when I do calligraphy, I open the book, and I write that part while feeling the meaning of the words," he explained. "The meaning is in my mind, but it manifests itself in the shape of forms and curves."
He proceeded to show students how to carve the calligraphy pens out of bamboo with a fine blade, an angle measuring wooden block and a Japanese sharpening stone. He also presented the book he based some of his own artworks on: a translated copy of the Mystical Poems of Rumi.
Students practiced creating shapes on calligraphy paper, working to create curves and lines similar to the ones Zaghi presented. The task required a great deal of practice and patience from all.
Some of the students present had already been introduced to calligraphy, such as 8th-semester physiology and neurobiology major Kimiya Zafar, "I am Persian, but I only know how to write my name," she said.
The workshop lasted for more than an hour, and Zaghi encouraged the students to practice with different curves, colors and thickness of pens. Silk was put in each bottle of ink to prevent the ink from dripping off the pen, he explained.
When asked, all students agreed that not having been preiously introduced to the structure of the Persian alphabet did not make reproducing Zaghi's letters more difficult. "You see how universal those lines and shapes are," Zaghi said.
At the end of the workshop, students were invited to keep their own calligraphy pens, a bottle of ink with some silk and calligraphy paper. "I even learned a lot today," Zaghi said. "I thought having the structure was important, but students just analyzed the form and got it right away."
The "Persepolis: Word & Image" exhibition will continue at the museum until March 16, and students are invited to attend an Art and Conversation Salon on Feb. 28, with Persian artist Afarin Rahmanifar, English professor Cathy Schlund-Vials and Women's Center Director Kathleen Holgersen as the main speakers.

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