16 May 2014

‘Holy Writ’ exhibition in Lichfield brings
together artists from Abrahamic faiths

‘Ibrahim/Abraham/Avraham’ by Stephen Raw … the ‘Holy Writ’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral brings together the traditions of the Abrahamic faiths (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

Earlier this week, after a mid-day celebration of the Eucharist in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral, I spent some time in the Cathedral at an inspirational exhibition, Holy Writ: Modern Jewish, Christian and Islamic Calligraphy.

Some of the finest artists in calligraphy and creative lettering have been brought together for this exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral, which opened on the Saturday after Easter [26 April 2014] and continues until 15 June 2014. These artists work in the tradition, language and words of the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – using modern techniques and ideas to convey the written work.

Of course, Lichfield Cathedral is the proud keeper of the eighth century Saint Chad Gospels or Lichfield Gospels, which are one of the finest examples of calligraphy and decorative work from Anglo-Saxon culture.

Now, the cathedral has put together an exhibition includes sculpture, woodcarving, digital animation and textile art, as well as two-dimensional work. Peter Halliday, one of the exhibiting artists and curator of the exhibition, says this exhibition celebrates the work of “a small number of active and innovative artists influenced by centuries of philosophical writing, poetry and prayer.”

‘That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom’ (Psalm 90: 12), by Martin Wehnham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Leading calligraphers have created works specifically for the exhibition, and some works have been borrowed from the British Museum. Alongside the Cathedral’s own Saint Chad’s Gospels, historical context is being provided and by ancient Jewish and Islamic documents from the British Library.

The Holy Writ artists come from Britain, the Middle East, China, and many other parts of the world.

Three triangular compositions by Fouad Kouichi Honda, a Japanese Muslim from Tokyo, feature mirrored Arabic text reflecting the three spires of the cathedral.

‘Oh Merciful,’ a banner by the Chinese artist Haji Noor Deen Mi Gianjiang (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

A banner by the Chinese artist Haji Noor Deen Mi Gianjiang, ‘Oh Merciful,’ demonstrates the use of a brush made of tamarisk to create a textured sweep of lettering, made impressively in one stroke.

Pages from The Saint John’s Gospel, the first complete hand-written and illuminated Bible since the Renaissance (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

A unique part of the exhibition is Heritage volumes and pages from The Saint John’s Gospel, the first complete hand-written and illuminated Bible since the Renaissance. It was designed and produced by Donald Jackson and a team of contemporary calligraphers and artists. Commissioned in 1998 by Saint John’s Abbey and University in Minnesota, it was completed in 2011.

Other artists in the Holy Writ exhibition include Kamal Boullata, Ewan Clayton, who trained under Eric Gill; Muhammad Ehsai from Iran; Susan Hufton, former editor of The Scribe; Mustafa Ja’far from Iraq; Behnam Keryo, who works in Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ; Professor Ahmed Moustafa from Alexandria in Egypt; Timothy Noad, who is also a celebrated heraldic artist working on royal grants and charters; Mary Noble from Fareham; Jila Peacock from Iran; Izzy Pludwinski who is based in Jerusalem, Stephen Raw, who works in Manchester and Glasgow; Parviz Tanavoli from Tehran; and Martin Wenham, who teaches in London and Sussex.

Benham Keryo works a text in Aramaic from Ephrem of Nisibis, the Fast of Nineveh, telling of Jonah’s visit to Nineveh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

An additional beautiful and inspiring piece of collaborative art is on display in the north transept. Community groups, colleagues and friends throughout Staffordshire have sewn pieces of calligraphic art that have been crafted into a Multi-Faith Textile designed by the staff of South Staffordshire College.

In addition, five local schools are raking part in an exhibition in the Nave and South Transept. As part of this project, each school has taken part in a one-day workshop with Celia Houghton, Lichfield District Council Arts Development Officer, to explore aspects of calligraphy from the three faith traditions. The schools are: Henry Chadwick Community Primary School, Hill Ridware; Manor Primary School, Drayton Bassett; Fulfen Primary School, Burntwood; SS Peter and Paul Primary School, Lichfield; and Holly Grove Primary School, Burntwood.

A programme of lectures, discussions and practical workshops, with activities appropriate to all ages and levels of interest, accompanies Holy Writ.

The exclusive guided tours of the exhibition are led by Canon Anthony Moore, who talks about the three faiths represented in the exhibition, and Peter Halliday, who talks about the art of calligraphy in the exhibits.

The tours start with wine and canapés and exclusive access to the Cathedral Shop. The tours are limited to a maximum of 30 on each tour. Tickets cost £20 each, and include refreshments. The two remaining tours are on Friday 23 May and on Tuesday 27 May from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

On Saturday 24 May, a study day explores ‘Calligraphy and the sacred word.’ This study day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in College Hall, is an opportunity to hear from Michelle Brown, formerly of the British Library, who will speak about the historic and modern use of calligraphy in sacred writing. A knowledgeable and popular lecturer, Michelle previously visited Lichfield Cathedral to talk about the Saint Chad Gospels and the Lichfield Angel. Tickets at £30 include lunch.

There are two remaining events in the lecture programme. In a lunchtime lecture in the Cathedral Nave on Thursday 29 May, Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Rabbi and author, will speak on ‘How Jews Read the Bible.’ On Thursday 5 June, Ewan Clayton, one of the Holy Writ artists, talks and demonstrates the art of modern calligraphy. This lecture and demonstration takes place in College Hall from 1.15 p.m. to 4 p.m.

‘Candlemas 2012’ (York Minster) by Susan Hufton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Holy Writ remains open at Lichfield Cathedral until 15 June 2014, from Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday from 12 noon to 3 p.m. Admission is free.

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