02 Nov Getting Creative with Calligraphy
Teatime with a Calligraphy master at Dar Cherifa
After a leisurely lunch and a catnap, I woke up to the mesmerizing chants of the afternoon call to prayer. Leaving Riad 72 behind for the afternoon, we strolled through the bustling medina for about 15 minutes toward Dar Cherifa. Located the Moussasine neighborhood, this house (dar means house in Arabic) is a retreat for cultural and literature readings and lectures, a place for locals to gather and share ideas and art.
The inside courtyard flooded with light, high walls providing solace from the busy medina, there’s an immediate sense of reprieve in these structures that trick the senses with stucco work like lace and intricate wood carvings to find silence and calm in the heart of the action. I wandered the various alcoves, taking in the delicate artwork on the walls as we waited for our lesson.
As tall and bearded the teacher arrived, he sat down without calling much attention to himself and ordered a carrot juice. My friend Alessandro and I quietly sat down at the table, where he had begun to unload dozens of wooden instruments, ink bottles, and paper. We introduced ourselves and ordered glasses of fresh squeezed juice as well.
Mohammed launched into a fascinating hour-long discussion about the history of Arabic writing and calligraphy. An artist himself—XX had elegant examples of his work adorning the corridors of Dar Cherifa—he shared with us an introduction of the alphabet as an art form. He indicated some of the fine design work above on the walls of the Dar, demonstrating how much of the design was actually Arabic lettering. Often times phrases praising Allah these were repeated multiple times to extend the length of the molding, or to finish off a tile. It was intriguing to imagine that readers of Arabic were actually surrounded by words all the time, which for us appeared as beautiful designs with no meaning. To learn some of the letters would open up our understanding to all of the art around us.
Mohammed began teaching us alphabet indicating the consonant-rich language, showing us the influence of colors and the addition of vowels developed over time with the evolution of the language. I was intrigued to learn about how the style evolved into something so beautiful. We learned how an 8th century creative savant developed a way to arrange all of the letters into the form of a circle, creating uniformity between each of the shapes. We learned the importance of the sizes of each letter, crucial to finding harmony between each of the characters. He told us about this classes and how an essential part was learning first how to make your tools. This practice, for Mohammed, was essential in passing on the appreciation for the craft, which includes the original tools from raw materials.
Mohammed wrote (or drew) our names, and taught us which shapes formed which sounds and the difference between the fine points that added vowel sounds as well as the embellishments that made the name into a piece of art. We left with a beautiful drawing of our names to frame.
Dar Cherifa is a prime example of the kinds of treasures you can discover behind the many doors in the heart of Marrakech’s medina. Door after door, each painted in different colors, or stained gnarled wood with intricate ironwork details, you never know what you’re going to find behind these doors. You can’t just go knocking on all of the doors. Fortunately, we had some insider information.