Animating The Word: Legacy of Iran’s Minority Calligraphic Traditions.


December 16, 2014

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Tally Beck Contemporary will present a group exhibition of contemporary works that incorporate calligraphy from Iran. Animating the Word: The Legacy of Iran’s Minority Calligraphic Traditions will open on Wednesday, December 10 and run until December 30. The opening reception on December 10 will begin at 6:00 pm and run until 9:00 pm.

While Persian calligraphy and artwork is more familiar to most audiences, there are other rich traditions of calligraphy in the minority cultures of Iran. These traditions have inspired a genre of contemporary art that incorporates the written languages and enriches the visual expression of these peoples.


Zoroastrian work by Kourosh Vafadari


For this exhibition, Tally Beck Contemporary will be exhibiting work by Ani Babaian (Armenian), Hannibal Alkhas (Assyrian), Solayman Sassoon (Jewish), Siamak Jamshidizadeh, Pooneh Oshidari, and Kourosh Vafadari (Zoroastrian).

Inspirational concept for this unique show of calligraphy from Iran comes from Richard N. Frye (1920-2014), the first holder of the Aga Khan Professorship in Iranian Studies at Harvard University. Richard Frye, an enthusiastic language learner, enjoyed rendering short Persian poems in his elegant hand. He also had a deep appreciation of minority languages of Iran and the Middle East, including those represented in this show as well as others written in modified forms of the Arabic alphabet. This show is dedicated to his memory.

Animating the Word

The Legacy of Iran’s Minority Calligraphic Traditions

December 10 – 30, 2014 – New York

Iran, like other geographic state entities formed on the basis of colonial negotiations in the 19th century, contains several significant historically indigenous religious groups: Zoroastrians, Jews, Assyrians and Armenians. These four groups each have distinctive orthographic traditions bound to their religious traditions and ethnic linguistic heritage.

A land that has come to represent the rise of Islamic governance during the late 20th century, nonetheless the Islamic Republic of Iran has continued a measure of the recognition of the presence of its historic non-Muslim minorities through its constitution, revised in 1980 under more restrictive interpretation than when the country first adopted a constitution in 1908.

First the Zoroastrian community, then the Jewish and Assyrian, have long roots in Iranian culture dating to the original Imperial Iran of the Achaemenids. The well-documented Armenian displacement from the Transcaucasian region of Julfa to the Isphahan of the Safavids during the 16th century marked a period of growth and influence for this community that has continued to mark it as the significant indigenous Christian presence in the country.

Despite the decline of minorities in the demographic percentage of the IRI total population in the years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, their continued representation in the national legislature (Majlis), their private schools and cultural associations, in Tehran in particular, allow maintenance of language and culture. Acculturated to Persian through the compulsory public educational system since 1928, bilingualism among Assyrians and Armenians is widespread. The religious language of Zoroastrians (Avestan, a Middle Iranian language) and of the Jews (Hebrew), has long become Persian with the exception of the Aramaic speaking Jewish communities living in the eastern Zagros towns from Sanandaj to Urmiah. The Jews of Iran (known as Kalimi) when they wrote Persian used the Hebrew alphabet as did the Aramaic speaking Jews.

Religious orthographies, thus, enjoy extensive usage within these four communities. The strong calligraphic of Persian, written in a modified Arabic alphabet since the early Islamic period, influenced these orthographies in two important ways: an appreciation of stylized calligraphy and the incorporation of calligraphy into manuscripts that has translated into calligraphy as an integral part of contemporary art.

-Dr. Eden Naby