Discovering the Art of Arabic Calligraphy

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arabic calligraphy lion design
Lion in Arabic calligraphy by American artist Everitte Gurney Barbee. Image provided

Special to Arabian Gazette by Hermoine Macura

The word Calligraphy comes from the Greek words “Kallos” meaning beauty and “Graphie” which means writing. In the modern sense, calligraphy relates to “the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious and skillful manner.” Islamic calligraphy is one of the most sophisticated in the world, and is a visual expression of deepest reverence to the spiritual world.

In an interesting interview, Dubai TV Anchor Hermoine Macura meets American artist Everitte Gurney Barbee to discover more  about his passionate journey in mastering the art of calligraphy; and thus bridging the gap between East and West through his brilliant works.

Born in Nashville, Tennessee – the heart of America, Everitte Gurney Barbee is an artist with an unusual flair for Arabic calligraphy. Just a quick glance at his works and it is easy to see that each piece tells a story of dedication and beauty, reviving a language that is in desperate need of preservation.

Ironically, his first encounter with Arabic was sparked on a journey as a teenager through India. “I first saw the script in shops and adorning mosques while travelling in northern India when I was 17. At that time, it never occurred to me that I’d eventually be writing calligraphy myself, but the beauty of the script, the hospitality, and the kindness of Muslims I met there was my main impetus for studying the Arabic language, which led to my studying of Arabic calligraphy.”

Everitte’s work is gaining popularity for a variety of reasons including the fact that he intertwines the classical language into images of figures or locations of importance. His search for perfection to master the language led him to Damascus.

arabic calligraphy map
Map of Occupied Palestine in Arabic calligraphy by American artist Everitte Gurney Barbee. Image provided

“I first began learning Arabic Calligraphy while I was studying abroad in Damascus, Syria as part of my undergraduate degree. I saw a sign for private calligraphy lessons on a street near my house one day and thought ‘why not?’. I learned the basics of the Ruq’a and Diwani scripts there, from a calligrapher named Adnan Farid…I’ve always found it to be a very relaxing and enjoyable process.”

Everitte’s journey in learning Arabic calligraphy also led to many discoveries such as the language’s poetic flexibility – unknown to most people in the West. “Because of the complexity of Arabic grammar, the language allows for some of the most satisfying rhyme and rhythm of possibly any language. The most interesting thing I’ve discovered about the script is that, even when drawing a very mundane shape, or something very ugly, it will always come out looking very beautiful and appealing to the eye, as long as I stick to the correct proportions of the script. For instance, I drew a portrait of Muammar Gaddafi, who in my opinion is quite an unattractive person. The piece was very beautiful in the end because of the script, while still conveying what an ugly person he is.”

This beauty in fact comes from the fact that these scripts have been developed and mastered over more than a thousand years, with ancient master calligraphers spent entire lifetimes identifying the most aesthetically pleasing way to convey each letter.

arabic calligraphy malcolm x sketch
A portrait of Malcolm X by American artist Everitte Gurney Barbee. Image provided.

It’s this passion that is sparked by the language itself that captivates its lovers on a journey of discovery and communication. Everitte explains his latest project, which is based on the Holy Quran.

“The ‘Quran of Solidarity’ project will see me write the entire Quran in figural and abstract designs surah by surah to create what I believe is the first Quran of its kind, both written by a non-Muslim and entirely in a non-linear fashion. The project is my own response to what I read and see in the Western media every day. Having met countless Muslims and lived and travelled in many Muslim countries, it is obvious that this propaganda couldn’t be more exaggerated. I hope this project will help non-Muslims to appreciate and celebrate the beauty of Islam.”

Ironically, the response has been overwhelmingly positive so far with most of his works purchased by Muslims. Many are surprised by the fact that he is actually not from the Muslim faith but has a deep passion and love of the language and teachings of the Quran.

arabic calligraphy statue
Statue of Liberty in New York by American artist Everitte Gurney Barbee. Image provided.

“Most Muslims that I’ve spoken to are thrilled that a non-Muslim can have such an appreciation for the religion.”

Once the ‘Quran of Solidarity’ project is finished, Everitte hopes to give the completed Quran to the Park 51 Islamic Center in New York as well as the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee near his home town – in the hope that his work will help to promote dialogue and understanding as well an appreciation for a language overshadowed by the conflicts of the Arab world.

Hermoine Macura is the first Australian female English speaking TV News Anchor in the Middle East, and also one of the area’s most recognized faces. Prior to establishing Straight Street Media in 2012, Hermoine was one of the main Anchor’s on Dubai One TV’s Emirates News. Her first book, FACES OF THE MIDDLE EAST was published in 2010.

Faces of the Middle East by Hermoine Macura
Faces of the Middle East by Hermoine Macura

FACES OF THE MIDDLE EAST is a book that aims to introduce the various ethnic and social groups who reside throughout the Middle East, proof that this part of the world is not, as many in the West mistakenly believe, a monolithic culture.

Neither a definitive story nor a political statement, FACES OF THE MIDDLE EAST, is the culmination of more then seven years of Photojournalism that documents the existence and rich diversity present in the region.

Order a copy online at www.straightstreetmedia.ae 

 

Content and images by Hermoine Macura

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