Owner of Turkish Calligraphy Exhibit Seeks Western Understanding of Turkey's Cultural Heritage

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Owner of Turkish Calligraphy Exhibit Seeks Western Understanding of Turkey's Cultural Heritage

An art exhibit now on view at Harvard University's Sackler Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, displaying the splendor of the Ottoman Empire is more than simply another cultural show, according to the businessman who amassed the collection. Turkish industrialist Sakip Sabanci, who says the 70 works from his private collection represent the beauty and goodness of Turkish culture, wants the world, particularly Americans, to have a better view of his nation's heritage.

"First of all America is very important, we must have better economic relations," Sabanci explains. "That calls us to the cultural area which is important." Turkey has often been judged solely on its past. Sabanci said, "The democracy we have is not perfect. We are learning."

The exhibit, "Letters in Gold: Ottoman Calligraphy from the Sakip Sabanci Museum, Sabanci University, Istanbul," which opened in Cambridge after successful runs in New York and Los Angeles, will remain on display at the Sackler Museum through Jan. 2. It is the most extensive collection ever presented in the U.S. of Islamic calligraphy, which is "the quintessential art form in the Islamic world," according to Mary McWilliams, associate curator of Islamic and Later Indian Art. "It was the work of scribes for several centuries."

She noted that the calligraphy in the collection represents several styles developed by the Ottoman courts, when Turkish was written in the Arabic script. Turkish was not written in Western characters until after the establishment of the Turkish Republic, which followed the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

Calligraphy is rooted in the sacred writings of the Qur'an and developed throughout the Muslim world since people needed to be able to read in order to fully receive the word of the Qur'an.

However, Arabic calligraphy, which was popularized by the desire of the people throughout the Islamic world to read the Holy Qur'an, developed into a vibrant art form that varied enormously from place to place. …


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