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Calligraphy, 2005

Calligraphy, 2005

Calligraphy, by Mi Guangjiang (Haji Noor Deen) (Chinese, born 1963), 2005. Hanging scroll; ink on paper. Gift of Haji Noor Deen, 2005.94.

Detail: Calligraphy

Detail: Calligraphy, by Mi Guangjiang (Haji Noor Deen) (Chinese, born 1963), 2005. Hanging scroll; ink on paper. Gift of Haji Noor Deen, 2005.94.

Calligraphy, 2005
Detail: Calligraphy

Islam has a long history in China, and Chinese Muslims have played significant roles in a number of activities, particularly finance and trade. Perhaps the most famous Muslim in Chinese history is the great Ming dynasty admiral and explorer Zheng He, who led a Chinese fleet through Southeast Asia, around India, and along the east coast of Africa in the early 1400s. For centuries after, Chinese Muslims found that their knowledge of both Chinese and Arabic gave them an advantage along the vast trade routes where these two languages were widely used for business dealings.

The artist of this work, Haji Noor Deen (Mi Guangjiang), is a Chinese Muslim who is trained in the art of Arabic calligraphy. His calligraphy works are an unusual combination of the Arabic and Chinese calligraphic traditions, highlighting issues of identity and diversity in China. The artist, as translated by Rashid Patch, provides this explanation of the calligraphy:

"The large Chinese character means “peace.” The shape of the Chinese also forms the Arabic lettering as-salaam (“peace” ), written vertically in highly stylized sini style Arabic script. So, the piece is a hybrid, reading “peace” simultaneously in Chinese and Arabic script. In the upper section of the calligraphy, the top panel is also in sini style Arabic letters (though very highly stylized) reading “ In the Name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate.”

The sini style of Arabic lettering was developed in China (sini means “Chinese” in Arabic), and although it has a thirteen-century-long history of development, it is not well known to Muslims outside of East Asia. It often employs a brush rather than the reed pen used in most Arabic calligraphy. The letter forms tend to vary in thickness far more than the other major Arabic script styles, and often have an almost liquid character. Sini script is frequently written (and read) vertically, like Chinese script, as well as in the usual Arabic right-to-left pattern. Forms and graphic motifs from traditional Chinese calligraphy and art are often incorporated into sini Arabic, enriching the script.

The Arabic letters in this section form the shape of crossed spears in a weapons rack, a traditional display in martial arts schools and a common design motif in Chinese graphics. If the spear tips were pointed straight up, it would express wariness, potential hostility, trouble, or war. With the spear points crossed over each other, the image expresses peace, the end of hostilities, and security.

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