The Reed Pen’s Tale

Image of Sayed Ali Karam Jawhary and some of his calligraphy

Sayed Ali Karam Jawhary’s (Ali) an Afghanistan-born calligraphy artist, opened his first New Zealand solo exhibition on Friday 8 December 2017.

Celebrating Persian calligraphy and the resilience of an artist from a refugee background, the exhibition, titled the Reed Pen’s Tale, was launched at the Depot Artspace in Devonport, Auckland. The exhibition features 12 distinctive Persian calligraphic works.

Abigael Vogt (Principal Advisor, Office of Ethnic Communities) attended the opening, along with group of 40 people celebrating Persian culture, Ali’s work and his achievement.

Persian calligraphy is a unique art form, which was established around the 7th century CE (current or common era). Ancient Persian script is believed to have originated around 500-600 BCE (before the current or common era).

The calligraphic forms and Persian script Ali uses derive from symbols that are centuries old, and are made using hand carved bamboo calligraphy pens. Also on display with the Reed Pen’s Tale is a collection of Ali’s bamboo calligraphy pens.

For Ali, art is a universal language that transcends culture, functioning as a refuge. His works draw inspiration from the words and philosophy of Persian poets of old. Ali trained as a calligrapher in Tehran, reading and visiting exhibitions by some of the best calligraphers - all of whom challenged him to develop his art. Now, 37 years on, Ali is considered a Master of the art.

Ali’s calligraphy acts as a vehicle to share his true story and situation, and to represent the ideas of the ancient poets. “Calligraphy and poetry are very closely related. I like poetry, so calligraphy is the best way to learn how to express how I feel. I try to tell my story and match it to a poem that is similar to my story” he says.

In 2013, Ali was resettled in New Zealand, together with his son. His brother had previously been granted resettlement in New Zealand, and later applied for a family reunification visa for Ali and his family.

The exhibition is an important step as he begins his life as an artist here. Working as an artist is an enabler to his integration, just as joining New Zealand’s arts community has played a key role in his becoming part of the wider community.

Ali says he has received fantastic support to put together this exhibition from Art for Change, the New Zealand Red Cross, Depot Artspace and the Auckland Refugee Family Trust.