Arabic calligraphy exhibit held at UN Headquarters

As part of its year-long activities marking the 2008 International Year of Languages, the UN's Language and Communications Programme held a one-day exhibition of Arabic calligraphy in the Secretariat lobby on Monday, 7 July.

Various works of Arabic calligraphy on posters, brass, wood, papyrus, and pottery were on display, as well as books, and silver and gold jewelry.

Staff from the Arabic Language Programme were available to answer questions about the exhibition and how to learn Arabic at the UN.  Language classes are open to UN staff members, diplomats assigned to UNHQ, and UN staff who have retired. Arabic language courses are also available in the UN duty stations in Addis Ababa, Beirut, Geneva, Nairobi, Santiago and Vienna.

During the exhibition, New York staff had their names written in Arabic calligraphy from by Mr. Majed Seif, a known calligrapher and artist based in the New York area.

Decorative writing – calligraphy – is one of the highest art forms of the Arab world. It is the premier art form of the Islamic world through its relationship to sacred texts. Nevertheless, Arabic calligraphy is in no way limited to Islamic texts; it became an inseparable part of contemporary Arab graphic arts and design. In addition to excerpts from the Koran, and sayings of the Prophet, texts include proverbs, popular sayings, poetry and prose.

Each and every script, with its varied styles and decorative patterns, plays a vital role in the enrichment of the Islamic and Arabic cultures. Calligraphy became highly respected as an art - the art of writing. It is closely linked to geometry and the proportions of the letters are all governed by mathematics.

Arabic calligraphy developed mainly with the Umayyads in Damascus, the Abbasids in Baghdad, and the Mamluks in Egypt, and expanded to include different styles of writing. Other regional calligraphic schools and styles developed in Persia, Turkey, Pakistan and many other places.