When I Learnt to Write

Nasir Kazmi, a revered romantic poet of Pakistan in the 1960s, is well-known for his epic-like long poem Pehli Barish (the first showers) which is structured in the form of the couplet. This poem starts as:

“When I learnt to write: I wrote Your (God’s) name”

Human feelings owe too much to the world of words, as words have always carried the meanings that could bear the emotional, patriotic, religious and devotional aspect of human life. Alphabets, words and phrases have a special place in our lives and in the evolution of any language concerning the meanings as well as the text.

Furthermore, literature, linguistics, and philosophies have unfolded numerous layers regarding the meanings or understanding of written text. On the other hand, a romantic or aesthetical approach silhouetted the appearance or writing styles for alphabets and words for certain languages. Sacred or religious texts, literary prose, celebrated poetry and sayings of prophets, seers, philosophers and thinkers received special aesthetic concern of artists, who could render them with beauty and style. Unmatched quality of the meanings characterized the physical appearance of alphabets; the art of calligraphy emerged to bridge the thought with beauty, and its connotation with the art-form itself.

Islam is a non-iconoclastic religion and does not encourage figurative art form like portraitures or sculptures.

Therefore, in its glorified and golden era, the Muslims came up and excelled in the solidity of architecture and in the art of calligraphy. At one end, the domes and minarets received acceptance for sacred buildings such as mosques and shrines, and at the other, the complicities of arabesque, floral and geometric patterns, and the philosophical approach towards life (especially related to the Sufi ideology), provided the concrete foundation for the art of calligraphy. Diverse writing styles like Naskh, Nasta’liq, Thulth (or Suls), Kufic, Shikasta and many others, evolved over the centuries and across Afro-Asian lands, with the spread of Islamic ideology. The art of calligraphy came into its south Asian mould during the reigns of various Muslim dynasties; the Slaves, the Khilji’s, the Tughlaqs, the Sayyids, the Lodhi’s, and the Mughals.

After the British colonial period, when Pakistan came into existence, along with other art forms, the art of calligraphy was accepted as a popular genre in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In the 1980s, under the neo-Islamization of Zia-ul Haq, many painters adopted, and some actually converted to, the art of calligraphy.

Even many figurative and portrait painters like Sadequain and Gulgee preferred to put their hands on this venerated art form whereas, few adopted it as their main forte and earned names as calligraphic painters. This professional adaptation marked the beginning of calligraphic-painting, which was different and colourful as compared to the traditional art of calligraphy. Now the Qalam or the Quill was replaced with the painting brush, and the layers of liquefied black ink gave way to the colourful palette of a painter.

Fizzah Zaheer Salam is a self taught calligraphist who, after attending a workshop of this art at NCA explored her talent towards this tedious and difficult way of expression. Later, she trained herself in handmade paper techniques, and then she assimilated her both expertise to develop her own signature art of calligraphy by amalgamating traditional and modern styles together. She had her first solo-show in 2008 under the title of Homage. After a long period of five years, she had her second exhibition in 2013, under the same title of Homage; for both these shows, the venue remained the Alhamra Art Gallery Lahore.

Compared with the exhibition in 2008, Fizzah Zaheer’s work seems to be on the mature side in the 2013 show.

Fizzah, through her work has explored the beauty and balance that always remind us of the sole creator of the universes; Allah the Almighty!

According to Fizzah Zaheer, when she started to study the holy Quran with an urge and attempt to understand the true meanings of the message, she realized the original concept of beauty and balance. Afterwards, on her early-morning walk, she explored the matchless colours in feathers of birds, in leaves, in flowers and in crops like corns, barley and wheat. She found the bee-hive as a hexagonal shape which displays harmony and symmetry in terms of design. She explored the shades of gems and stones to find the aesthetic softness in the hardness of rocks. All these elements became ultimate parts of her canvases, and she arranged her calligraphic frames with these original and natural objects. Moreover, Fizzah has used the antique wood in few of her calligraphic-paintings to relate them with the persistence as well as the cruelty of time.

She has combined various techniques of painting and designing with the traditional calligraphic skills like watercolour, marbling, pen and ink, and burnt-paper while conventional, geometric and floral motifs are not only painted or drawn, but have been imprinted in block-printing technique as well. She, in some of her frames, has used compressed bee-hives, sliced corns, sliced and broken stones, sea shells, painted leaves and beads.

In most of her work, the holy name of ‘Allah’ has been written, in traditional and stylized oriental pattern, mostly composed in the center with motifs and scriptures around it. By adopting this fashion, she displays the centuries-old institution of calligraphy; based on the philosophy and ideology where central and the most pivotal position of Allah Almighty is presented as unchallenged and unshared. This aspect of Fizzah’s work also shows her devotion and total submission towards the Creator, and that is why she has titled her exhibition as Homage.

Fizzah has utilized texture, color and balanced compositions for her calligraphic frames. Intentionally, or unintentionally, she has explored many of the painting techniques and has actually applied them to her work in an experimental way. Her skill in conventional calligraphy, though seems imperfect at some stage as far as the rules and regulations of this art are concerned, compliment the viewer by aesthetics; either when the calligraphic-ink is seen soaked in the texture of handmade paper or when she experiments with new methods and techniques under strong emotional and holy inspirations.

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