x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Islamic bookbinding skills on display

The ancient art of Islamic bookbinding will be brought to life in the capital over the next week by six experts from Turkey.

Ayla Makas, right, and her apprentice Ayse Saricam, both of Istanbul, demonstrate the Turkish art of ebru print making.
Ayla Makas, right, and her apprentice Ayse Saricam, both of Istanbul, demonstrate the Turkish art of ebru print making.

ABU DHABI // The ancient art of Islamic bookbinding will be brought to life in the capital over the next week by six experts from Turkey. The artists specialise in different areas of the intricate process, which dates back to the 15th century. Yesterday some of their craft was put on display for the first time at the Cultural Foundation. Live demonstrations begin today.

This kind of show is essential to preserving the tradition, said Asiye Kafalier, an artist specialising in tezhib, or illuminations. "If we share our art with others, then we will spread the knowledge and make it bigger," she said. "There is a saying in Turkish which says if you share your art, you get a more positive feeling from it." Serra Ozkan, an expert in Ottoman bookbinding, said: "It's important to bring this art to life; it will keep it alive through generations. We can't expect to teach anyone in the UAE in this short time, but we can ignite their interest and hopefully encourage more people to learn about it."

The interactive event is part of the Islam: Faith and Worship exhibition at the Emirates Palace hotel. Many of the artists have travelled the world demonstrating their craft. Dilek Calis, who specialises in cutting delicate patterns from paper and layering them on panels within the binding, has been to America, Japan, Paris, Norway and Cairo. "Anyone who is interested in art is interested in bookbinding. It is not specific to the Islamic world," she said. "Mostly people look at the kind of work I do, the calligraphy, the marbling and the illustrations and see it in a frame. They don't realise how much time and effort goes into it."

Ms Kafalier explained that it could take years to complete a book using these techniques, and in Ottoman times books were usually reserved for the sultans. "We do occasionally work on commissions," she said. "The most common request we get is for the Quran. That can take at least six or seven years. The illustrations alone take four." Turan Sevgili, a calligrapher who began learning his skills 50 years ago and who has lectured on the craft in Turkey, said patience, dedication and hard work were vital.

"You also must have a full understanding of Arabic, Farsi and Ottoman Turkish in order to select the right words," he said. "If you don't have the culture then you can't carry on the craft." "Art and life are inseparable," Ms Kafalier said. "Through my art of illustration, for example, I learn many things. Each piece takes at least one month, and I go through many stages of preparing the paper, colour, calligraphy, gold inlays, and this is before the manual labour starts.

"I learn patience, how to deal with difficulties and to overcome problems systematically. Because art is so closely linked to life, we try to carry on its tradition in the proper way." The Art and Craft of Islamic Bookbinding is open from 9.30am to 12.30pm and from 4.30 to 8.30pm daily until October 6.   @Email:aseaman@thenational.ae