The age old practice of writing calligraphy in Arabic script continues to be practised today all over the world but is particularly strong in Iran and Turkey.

In Turkey, today’s calligraphers trace their lineage back to the celebrated masters of the Ottoman Empire. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, a western Latin script was adopted and is still used in everyday life. Nevertheless, traditional calligraphy in Arabic script continues to flourish in Turkey largely because of the strong tradition of passing knowledge from master to pupil. Student calligraphers from all over the world still come to Istanbul to learn from established masters, maintaining this artistic lineage.

In Iran, the Society of Iranian Calligraphers maintains the traditional art forms in most major cities. As in Turkey, students undertake years of training, learning traditional styles such as the Persian hanging script, or ‘nasta'liq’. Such styles became famous under the great dynasty of the Safavids, who ruled Iran and areas of Central Asia from the 16th to the early 18th centuries.

Soraya Syed is a British Muslim artist who trained in Turkey with master calligrapher Hasan Çelebi and was awarded the sought-after 'icazetname' (the authoritative Islamic calligraphy licence). Syed combines her traditional training with a contemporary approach in order to explore the further possibilities of calligraphic art. Here she uses styles developed over the centuries and arranges them in innovative and meaningful ways. (Courtesy of Soraya Syed. All photos ©Soraya Syed)


Jila Peacock was born in Iran but now lives in Britain. She is a painter with an interest in poetic images and the work displayed here draws on her Iranian heritage.

In the above works, she brings to life, in animal form, the words of Hafez, a famous 14th century Iranian poet. (If you click on the image you will be able to read a translation of each poem). As a painter rather than a trained calligrapher the artist draws on the traditions of her Iranian heritage but includes an innovative twist. She writes in traditional ‘nastaʿliq’ script, rarely used in this form of calligraphy in the past. Together with the shimmering range of colours employed, this provides a new dimension to a traditional form of writing. (All works courtesy of the Syndics of The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. © Jila Peacock / Photo copyright © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)