Remarks delivered by Ambassador Selçuk Ünal at IRCICA caligraphy exhibition (Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture) on the occasion of the Islamic Culture and History Month in Canada and Turkey’s being the current Chair of the OIC Summit
Presidents of the Canadian Muslim organisations,
It is a pleasure for me to welcome you all to the first ever organisation of IRCICA in Canada. IRCICA is the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture is the cultural subsidiary of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
On the occasion of the Islamic Culture and History Month in Canada and Turkey’s being the current Chair of the OIC Summit, we are honoured to host the IRCICA calligraphy exhibition. As we speak, the second and different half of this exhibition is launched in Toronto as well. These two exhibitions and the talk by Prof Masud Taj entitled “The Wandering Calligrapher & Architect Sinan's Epitaph: Isfahan, New York, Toledo, Mumbai, Istanbul.” are also part of our cultural activities within the framework of the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Canada.
I would like to thank personally the Director General of the IRCICA, Prof. Dr. Halit Eren, for his personal attention and contribution to this project as well as his dedicated staff who made it happen. I also would like to thank the Presidency of Religious Affairs of Turkey for their generous sponsorship of this exhibition.
IRCICA’s objective is to promote and facilitate the exchange of knowledge in studies and artistic endeavors relating to the Islamic civilization and Muslim cultures. One of IRCICA’s main areas of interest is fine arts of the Muslim world, in particular the Islamic calligraphy, on account of the special place this art holds in the lives of Muslim people as an authentic shared element of their cultures. IRCICA’s activities relating to the art of calligraphy include a triennial international calligraphy competition, symposia, exhibitions, training programs and publications. With these activities, IRCICA has become an important focal point for Islamic calligraphy recognized in art circles throughout the world. Needless to say, calligraphy has a unique place in the cultural history of the Ottoman Empire.
Since 1986 IRCICA has organized eleven international calligraphy competitions. The eleventh one is to be finalized in May 2019. This series of competitions aims to revive and help flourish the classical art of Islamic calligraphy. It covers the main styles of writing evolved throughout the history of this art and encourages the artists to produce works within the framework of their traditional rules and principles. The competition also provides a common ground for calligraphers to exchange knowledge and experiences and reach wider audiences across the world through the publications and exhibitions resulting from the competition. In the spirit to encourage artists to emulate the examples of the great masters of calligraphy and, at the same time, to commemorate the latter, the Centre dedicates each competition to one of the eminent masters of this art. The current, 11th International Calligraphy Competition is held in the name of Mehmed Şevki Efendi (1245-1304 H/1829-1887 AD).
IRCICA’s other activities concerning the art of calligraphy include training courses, which it organizes at its headquarters in Istanbul or in OIC member countries. By 2018, 149 calligraphers from 46 countries received “Ijaza” – licenses to practice and teach calligraphy – on completion of these courses. Some of the winners in the competitions and some of the trainees became teachers of this art in their respective countries, forming a world-wide “IRCICA Generations of Calligraphers”.
Besides, an International Gathering on the Art of Calligraphy convened by IRCICA, for the first time in September 2014 and the second in April 2019, combines multiple events including seminars, exhibitions and workshops. There are several publications among which are: the scholarly and artistic album titled “The Art of Calligraphy” published in Arabic, English, Turkish, Malay and Japanese editions; calligraphy exercise books, and catalogues of winners’ works in the calligraphy competitions. Meanwhile, by 2018 IRCICA organized 279 exhibitions of calligraphy within and outside its member countries presenting works from its collections and from among winners’ works in the competitions.
The exhibition today presents 20 works that have won awards in IRCICA’s calligraphy competitions along with some works by contemporary Turkish calligraphers.
Prof Haj will talk about the world-reknown, great Ottoman Architect Mimar Sinan and his arts. Arts is always inter-twined with humanitarianism. Therefore, before introducing Prof Haj, I would like say a few words on another perspective of humanitarianism.
From the days the Ottomans helped the Irish during the Great Famine in 1847 until present, magnitude of Turkey’s assistance changed, but not its principles. As you know, we are living through the biggest refugee crisis of the world since the Second World War. Turkey is today hosting almost 4 million refugees from Syria and Iraq, being the largest refugee hosting country in the world. Shouldering more than its share in its role as a responsible member of the international community, Turkey spent almost 32 billion USD in the last 7 years. According to the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2017, Turkey ranks the largest donor country world-wide with 8 billion USD humanitarian assistance in 2017. Turkey is also the largest humanitarian donor when the ratio of official humanitarian assistance to national income is taken into consideration.
Prof. H. Masud Taj is adjunct professor at the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University and recipient of the Capital Educators’ Award (an award that recognizes excellent teaching in Ottawa) and the CUSA Teaching Excellence Award. Prof. Taj is also a talented and worldly lecturer, sharing his knowledge and passion for architecture. In 2015, he toured throughout Istanbul and India giving a series of lectures on Mimar Sinan, one of foremost architects of the Ottoman Empire, which led to Mimar Sinan being taught in Mumbai. He is a calligrapher of the Italic hand, as well as polyhedral Arabic; a poet whose work has been inducted into the Library of Parliament in Canada and an architect licensed in India.
While wishing you all a prosperous Islamic History Month in Canada, I would like to give the floor to Prof. Haj.
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