The pen is mightier than the sword, they say, but sometimes it’s the cartoonist’s pencil that stings the most. Around the world, caricaturists of all political stripes have long used their illustrations to lampoon the rich and powerful. Sometimes, their humour is focused on the foibles and follies of celebrities. This can take a dark turn when jokes are based on racist, misogynistic, homophobic or other tropes (consider the controversy over a cartoon of Serena Williams in 2019). But, such illustrations can also be a lighthearted means of exposing the mundane and endearing flaws of those whom we admire. Roasting the actions and decisions of the political élite, on the other hand, can bring about wrath unmatched by that of sports or entertainment stars, even when the images’ stated purpose was the betterment of society and progress in politics. The lands of the former Ottoman Empire are certainly no stranger to such dynamics. In 2017, our colleague Daniel Lowe curated an exhibition of the Arabic comic tradition that contained a considerable representation of satirical cartoons. For this year’s World Press Freedom Day, I’m going to share a few examples of the Ottoman Turkish satirical press from the British Library’s collections, and highlight some of the special connections between the United Kingdom and this vibrant part of Turkish culture.
Source: Drawing Ire: Illustrated Ottoman Satirical Magazines – Asian and African studies blog
By chance, a few weeks ago I came across an audio recording of an interview that I did with the late Iranian filmmaker and photographer Abbas Kiarostami in May 2013, when he was having an exhibition of his “Snow Series” (1999–2002) photographs at Rossi & Rossi gallery in Hong Kong. In the past few days, after learning that the legendary Iranian cineaste had died in Paris on July 4, I listened to that interview again and transcribed it. Our conversation lasted less than 30 minutes and Kiarostami was tired from his trip and eager to finish a pack of cigarettes that he claimed would be his last. We spoke through an interpreter, although Kiarostami understood many of my questions. He wore his trademark sunglasses while we sat at a desk in the back room of the gallery, so it was hard to see his eyes. He didn’t particularly seem to enjoy talking about his own photographs, and it took some time before he would give up information about them or about what he thought of the works. But his own comparison between the “Snow Series” and Japanese sumi-e brush-painting best revealed the kind of meditative precision he sought, as well as the kind of relationship to nature he was evoking. Though very different than his socially oriented films, his photographs are similarly pared down and intensely focused, and should also be seen as an effort to get directly to the essence of things.
By Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
This copy of the Shāhnāmah is thought to date originally from the 15th century. Unfortunately it has no colophon but it was extensively refurbished in India at the beginning of the 17th century when the 90 illustrations were added. These are numbered consecutively 1-91, only lacking no. 37 which, together with a gap of about 150 verses, is missing at the beginning of the story of Bīzhan and Manīzhah between folios 201v and 202r. The manuscript was altered again in the first half of the 18th century when elaborate paper guards and markers were added. The magnificent decorated binding, however, dates from the early 17th century.
Honda Kōichi Arabic calligrapher. Born in 1946 in Kanagawa Prefecture. President of the Japan Arabic Calligraphy Association and a professor of international relations at Daitō Bunka University. In 1969, graduated from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, where he studied Arabic. Joined the Pacific Aerial Survey Co. in 1975 and spent the next five years in the Middle East, where he picked up the basics of Arabic calligraphy. Continued to study calligraphy on his own after returning to Japan under the long-distance guidance of Turkish calligrapher Hasan Çelebi, from whom he received his “Ijaza” diploma as a master calligrapher in 2000. Has won numerous awards for his work, starting with the Jury’s Encouragement Prize at the 1990 International Arabic Calligraphy Contest. His published works include Pasupōto shokyū Arabiago jiten (The Passport Beginner’s Arabic Dictionary), Arabiago no nyūmon (An Introduction to Arabic) and Arabia moji o kaite miyō yonde miyō (Try Writing and Reading Arabic), as well as a collection of his calligraphy works titled Arabia shodō no uchū (The Universe of Arabic Calligraphy).
In 2009, Tokyo’s Waseda University built a fedora-sporting flautist robot powered by cranked air. But this is only the most recent attempt at a mechanical, flute-playing musician. In the 9th century, the Banū Mūsā brothers in Baghdad wrote a treatise describing their “instrument which plays by itself.
Cover of ‘Allah’s Automata’ (image courtesy Hatje Cantz) (click to enlarge)
Their innovative machine is described in Allah’s Automata: Artifacts of the Arabic-Islamic Renaissance (800-1200), recently published by Hatje Cantz. The book accompanies an exhibition of the same name, currently on view at the ZKM (Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe) in Germany, that includes a reconstruction of their instrument. While automata had their golden age in Europe from the 16th to 19th centuries — which saw the creation of such devices as the clock of Diana in her chariot that rolled across a table and shot an arrow — in the Islamic world their peak was from the 9th to 13th centuries. The most famous, also reconstructed for Allah’s Automata, is the 12th-century elephant water clock. The shapes of its various hydraulic elements could be interpreted as symbols of the international trade that facilitated its creation by Ismail al-Jazari, including an Indian elephant, Chinese dragons, and an Egyptian phoenix riding above a Muslim scholar who writes the time.
The Chester Beatty’s magnificent 890-page Qur’an by Ruzbihan Muhammad al-Tab‘I al-Shirazi (CBL Is 1558), forms the centrepiece for the Library’s next temporary exhibition, Lapis and Gold: the story…
Source: Lapis and Gold: Mounting folios of the Ruzbihan Qur’an