The arts can be used as a powerful tool to bring people together and bring about awareness to wide ranging issues from nature and love, to war and destruction, to human emotions & human frailty. More importantly, the critical role I feel the arts has to offer, is to give a glimpse of each other’s cultures and through that perhaps we can start to embrace our differences.
This week, we are speaking with Everitte Barbee (biography below). I got to know Everitte by discovering his calligraphy works on Saatchi Online. I was instantly taken away by them, especially the attention to detail and the sheer beauty that comes through. I was also very intrigued by how an American artist has portrayed Islamic culture through his work.
Q. As a non-Muslim, you have used a lot from the Quran and you have a work in progress ‘The Quran For Solidarity’. Can you explain a little about this and what it is was that drew you and inspired you to read the Quran and to write the entire book?
E.B.: I’ve wanted to read the Quran ever since ‘Islamophobia’ spread through America following 9-11. Given the number of peaceful Muslims in the world, I knew that Islam must have had very little to do with that attack, despite what many of my xenophobic countrymen would believe. So I wanted to learn what Islam was all about. Having been raised Catholic, I was amazed how similar the Quran and Bible were. I was also drawn to the Quran from an artistic standpoint since Arabic calligraphy as we know it today would not exist without it, due to the sanctity of the written word in Islam and the banning of iconography. More than a thousand years of widespread dedication allowed the various Arabic scripts to become the most beautifully perfected in the history of mankind, all because of the Quran and Islamic society. So I began writing individual surahs out of appreciation for what the Quran has given me. And I hope that by writing the Quran in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and interesting to both Muslims and non-Muslims more people will read and appreciate this wonderful text, and begin to understand what Islam is really all about.
Q. What is it that you are showing through these texts about religion, philosophy & life?
E.B.: As a whole my work attempts to create a celebration of the Middle East. I want to illustrate an accurate reflection of the beauty, heritage and welcoming culture of this fantastic region to stand as a stark contrast to the backwards, war torn, antagonistic Middle East that our western media seems intent on creating. I want to focus on the positive aspects of the Islamic world, which are for more prevalent in reality than the negative images we are constantly bombarded with on television and in the news.
Q. I am particularly interested in the outlook you take in your art to bring awareness to the importance of our cultural differences. How important a role do you feel the world of art plays in being able to bridge gaps between cultures? And more importantly by bringing cultures together?
E.B.: I think art is a fantastic vehicle for initiating a dialogue between cultures and bringing the world closer together. An artist can hardly expect that their art will bridge cultures on its own. But ideally art could cause its audience to reevaluate their own opinions or raise meaningful questions to create a dialogue about one’s cultural differences. Additionally, art is a wonderful way to remind ourselves how similar we all are as human beings. For instance, if we look at a piece of calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy, anyone, whether they were raised in Djibouti, Kathmandu or New Orleans, will fall in love with his wonderful colours and flawless brush strokes.
Q. We love the colour calligraphy, what was the deciding factor into moving away from the traditional black and white and using these meaningful colours?
E.B.: The deciding factor was largely just the confidence in my hand and acquiring the right materials. It was obviously the next logical step. My style uses calligraphy to create clear visual images, so of course I’ve always wanted to work in colour, since that’s how we perceive the world in day to day life. I was limited to black ink initially because it’s easier for several reasons; it’s opaque so it’s very easy to make corrections or fill in weaker strokes without any variation in the stroke, I can also plan a piece out in pencil under black ink without it appearing in the final piece. I could also use black calligraphy fountain pens for small text and details, which are very user friendly. With coloured inks, I have to use dip pens which are a more flexible medium but make the ink more difficult to control. I was reluctant to use them on more complex images initially, since a composition often takes up to forty hours to create. I wasn’t quite ready to risk wasting all of that time because a little too much ink came out of the dip pen ruining a week’s worth of work with one stroke.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us and we wish you ongoing success.
Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. At the age of eighteen he moved to Scotland to study international business and Arabic. He began formal training in Islamic calligraphy while living in Damascus, Syria in fall and winter of 2009. He is currently living and working as an artist in Beirut, Lebanon and continuing his study of Islamic calligraphy.