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Man Pardêsî Jai Thee-ai: an Exhibition of Calligraphy Creations in Siyah Mashq

Continuing with its endeavour to make the visual arts more accessible to the LUMS community, the Gurmani Centre organized a calligraphy exhibition this semester. Man Pardêsî Jai Thee-ai (If the self suffers exile), an exhibition of calligraphy by Shah Abdullah Alamee, opened on February 10, 2020 to a warm and enthusiastic response. The exhibition was curated by Dr. Nadhra Shahbaz Khan and Dr. Fatima Fayyaz—professors of Art history and Persian at LUMS.

The seven sets of calligraphic creations on display depicted poetry from five different languages—Balochi, Pashto, Persian, Punjabi, Sindhi, and Urdu. These verses centred around the theme of exile, and included the works of Mas‘ûd Sa‘ad Salmân, Guru Nanak, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ghani Khan Ghani, and Atâ Shâd. The artist had used the traditional Persian technique of siyah mashq to render them in vibrant colours and intricate designs. Commenting on his technique, Shah Abdullah said that he was drawn to siyah mashq because the overlapping of letters used in the style allowed him to “emphasize the distinctness of each harf while also depicting how the letters blend and come together to create the meaning of the verse.”

One of the most appreciated and eye-catching pieces was a diptych featuring Guru Nanak’s bânî, “man pardêsî jai thee-ai, sabh des paraya” (If the self suffers exile, no land is familiar)—in both Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi scripts. The Shahmukhi panel was inlaid with gold leaf, and the glittering background seemed to lend an ethereal aura to the Guru’s words—highlighting the ideas of transcendence undergirding them. The other pieces too, aptly represented the emotions associated with each verse. The shades of black used in the piece inspired by Faiz, for instance,

beautifully captured the melancholy overtones of his verse“khayal su’e vatan ravañ hai”.

Shah Abdullah was also present at the opening and intermingled with the audience, entertaining their questions over tea and refreshments. The opening was attended by students and faculty of LUMS as well as art enthusiasts from outside the university. The exhibition was appreciated for the way it combined the universities existing expertise in the humanities with the visual arts. Students and professors of regional languages and literatures were particularly delighted at the opportunity to engage aesthetically with the rich poetic traditions of these languages. The exhibition will remain on display till May 31, 2020, offering students a chance to engage with the work deeply.


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