Poetry in motion

Keen to create a book that would celebrate Eastern culture in the West, designer and calligrapher Farah K. Behbehani has created a beautiful illustrated version of 12th century Sufi poem The Conference of the Birds.

Written by the Persian poet Fari ud-Din Attar, The Conference of the Birds tells the story of a number of different winged creatures who are in search of their mythological king, the Simorgh. Each bird is an allegory for an aspect of human nature but the birds also act as a metaphor for different stages in the Sufi path to enlightenment.

An illustration of the parrot

Selecting 13 stories from the poem, Behbehani has illustrates each using Jali Diwani calligraphy. Although the calligraphy is beautiful in itself, the most interesting thing about the book is how Behbehani has broken down each illustration into an infographic to help an untrained eye understand the movement of the calligrapher’s pen.

A circle represents a letter, a cluster of circles, a word and colours show the reader where the word starts and ends. As well as being incredibly helpful, the result is almost as beautiful as the illustration itself. It’s a thoughtful and well executed idea, and a great way for visually-minded people to get into Eastern poetry.

The Conference of the Birds: A Study of Farid ud-Din Attar’s Poem Using Jali Diwani Calligraphy, with design and calligraphy by Farah K. Behbehani is available from Thames and Hudson, priced at £85.

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