Spiritual in Islamic calligraphy: a phenomenological approach to the contemporary Turkish calligraphic tradition
Stermotich Cappellari, Francesco
The aim of this thesis is to highlight the relevance of the spiritual dimension of Islamic calligraphy, focusing on the Turkish contemporary calligraphic tradition. Academic literature in the field has been dominated by the tendency to focus on the objects produced by artists, neglecting their personal experience and understanding of the art. Using a phenomenological perspective, I give voice to calligraphers I met in Istanbul and Konya, letting emerge their views on issues related to the relationship between art, religion and spirituality. I explore several themes that have arisen from the interviews I conducted with fifteen exponents of the contemporary tradition, organised as a journey from the most material aspects to the most abstract ones. The exploration of these themes starts with the symbolism hidden behind physical calligraphic tools, moving to the analysis of the symbolism of the point and the letters, elementary forms of the calligraphic creations. The bodily dimension has been taken into consideration, showing how the control of the body is an essential aspect of the calligraphic practice. The art can be conceived as a pathway requiring the development of several moral qualities and virtues, all necessary to improve both the artistic capabilities and the spiritual maturity of the practitioner, until the achievement of the authorisation to teach the art. Once a calligrapher reaches the license and the mastery of the art, they bear the responsibility of transmitting the art to others. Furthermore, they become agents of remembrance, portraying in the most beautiful manners the verses of the Quran in social religious spaces, as in mosques, or on calligraphic panels acquired by individual collectors or museums. Since their artwork focuses on representing religious materials, including the remembrance of the attributes of God and of Prophet Muhammad, their art is considered an act of worship. Finally, I investigate what the meaning of Divine Beauty is in Islamic calligraphy, presenting the perspectives of Turkish calligraphers and analysing the connections between the artistic form and the meaning of the contents of specific calligraphic works. In conclusion, I have not limited my analysis to the formal aspects of the art, rather I have highlighted the existential dimension of a complex practice which connects together several aspects of the human being, including the spiritual dimension. Thus, the traditional stream of Turkish contemporary calligraphy can be seen as a full manifestation of a culture, a lifestyle and a religion.
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