The Moving Finger: A Solo Show by Aiyana Gunjan. Curated by Dr. Alka Pande. 23rd-27th Oct 2015.Visual Art Gallery. India Habitat Centre

The moving finger writes and having writ moves on, Nor all thy piety nor wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all they tears wash a word of it.’
– Omar Khayyam

Calligraphy has been used in many ancient cultures through the ages emerging from Islamic thought. It was used extensively as an ornamental device in Islamic architecture as well as in the illustration of Bibles in early Christian Byzantine art. While it is said to have originated with the Sumerians, Persia, Japan, China, India, Nepal, Korea, Tibet and the whole East Asia had a long and flourishing calligraphic tradition. Wang Xizhi, a great Chinese calligrapher was even dubbed the ‘Sage of Calligraphy’. Ono noMichikaze, Fujiwara no Sukemasa and Fujiwara no Yukinari hailed from Japan and were popularly heralded as the ‘skin, flesh and bones’ of Japanese calligraphy. The Kashgar Lotus Sutra is a famous example of a Buddhist manuscript dating back to the middle of the first millennium AD which bears a striking similarity to large lettered Chinese calligraphy.

The art form travelled with the sultans to India where it was incorporated into miniatures, finding especial importance under the reign of Shah Jahan. The Taj Mahal being the most widely known example of Islamic calligraphy used as an architectural element and verses from the Quran cover the walls of the Jama Masjid. Naji was a famed poet and calligrapher who lived during the reign of Aurangzeb and his elegant Persian inscriptions feature in the Mosque of Sayyid Muhammad in Ajmer where they are inlaid with black stones into the white marble floor. Many of the Mughal emperors were learned in the calligraphic arts, including Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, to name a few.

Emperor Aurangzeb earned money for his tomb by working as a calligrapher. In this way calligraphy became an integral part of the artistic language of the subcontinent, transitioning from writing on the page to become a significant component of Islamic architecture. It was a divine practice; calligraphers went into a deep trance-like meditative state as they worked.

Calligraphy could be called a ‘tool of the divine’, used as it was to inscribe the word of God in intricately illuminated manuscripts of the Bible, as well. This tradition reached as far back as the Christian Byzantine Empire. The Book of Kells, circa 800 AD, an illuminated gospel and stunning work of Celtic art are considered the pinnacle of the Christian calligraphic arts tradition. The artwork is remarkably elaborative, an exemplary example of early Irish calligraphy and includes the four gospels of the Bibles in Latin. Therefore, the West had a long history of calligraphy that continued to thrive even after the invention of the printing press. In the early 1400s, German publisher and printer, Johannes Gutenberg ushered in the print revolution in Europe with the printing of the Gutenberg Bible. He took great pains to ensure to cast the metal types in keeping with the artistic traditions laid down by calligraphers. The result was print that maintained the beauty and detailed precision of the calligrapher’s art.

Delhi based Aiyana Gunjan, is a contemporary Indian artist who is using calligraphy as a primary tool of self expression. Much like the Iranian artist in exile, Shirin Neshat, Aiyana Gunjan too, uses calligraphy to investigate and contextualize a number of core issues. Aiyana has been investigating the self, the personal, to arrive at truths about the pluralism of Indian culture.

The calligraphic multimedia works are an exploration in innovation as she marries calligraphy to various new mediums – photography, glass printing, pastels, water colours – in the quest for her identity and to evoke universal themes about spirituality, the self, and her own art practice. Using ink, brush and nib each work is a result of deep introspection, that lead her fingers to move over paper, canvas, photographs, over and over and over, layering each thought as in a palimpsest.

With globalisation and the opening up of the markets contemporary Indian art practice is imbued with an unusual vibrancy and innovation. Indian visual artists, are using a variety of mediums, and working more in a conceptual manner, increasingly rooted in an Indian tradition, calligraphy too in the form of text and image production of art is well established. The traditional Indian miniature painting tradition is one of the finest examples of this genre.

A Solo Show by Aiyana Gunjan. Curated by Dr. Alka Pande. 23rd-27th Oct 2015.Visual Art Gallery. India Habitat Centre

Aiyana Gunjan is taking the pen and ink, and the nib to another level. Painting, photography, mono printing are her secondary layer, calligraphy being the most potent layer, and this is what makes Aiyana’s language.

The Moving Finger Series is Aiyana’s exploration of pure calligraphy, working in a monochromatic black and white series. While the suite of 37 jewel like works titled the Sangam series, has a seamless fluidity between the nib, the digital photo and the flow of consciousness.

The colourful set of mono prints are a play between the process of printmaking and the pen. Size and forms both in representation and paper add another dimension to Aiyana’s art works. From single frames to diptychs, triptychs and larger canvases alter the nature of the calligraphic artistic manifestation. Transforming the art of calligraphy from religious into non religious spaces, to a more secular, artistic and personal space is evident in the oeuvre of Aiyana Gunjan.

Modern artists using calligraphy in a fine art practice have found it an exciting and mutable medium. Tsang Tsou Choi, a graffiti artist from Hong Kong who dedicated half a century to covering the streets with calligraphy. He was the first from the city who had the honour of being invited to the Venice Biennale. Xu Bing, a Chinese born artist, invented a system of characters that look like Chinese calligraphy but are, in fact, unreadable, challenging accepted ideas of language, calligraphy and their use. This innovation is something that I felt resonates with the spirit of invention layered into Aiyana’s art.

Australian artists, too, have found a great affinity for calligraphy weaving it into their artwork. Of these Stanislaus Rapotec and Ian Fairweather are the most notable. Rapotec’s artwork used calligraphy to create works imbued with spirituality, reflection and harmony, while Fairweather’s brush with calligraphy influenced his drawing which, in turn influenced his painting. Both have experimented much in the same vein as Aiyana, whose art displays similar traits.

Libyan painter Ali Omar Ermes, infuses his work with calligraphy as he believes it gives him the freedom to express much more. His own personal beliefs, his interest in literature, poetry, texture, form and colour as well as his training as a photographer come together in a truly distinctive style, but a style that seems to mirror many elements of Aiyana’s own artistic path. What is

A Solo Show by Aiyana Gunjan. Curated by Dr. Alka Pande. 23rd-27th Oct 2015.Visual Art Gallery. India Habitat Centre

interesting to note is that Aiyana Gunjan chose her medium of calligraphy with care.

Aiyana’s beginnings are rooted in the field of economics; she earned a BA in the subject, going on to also earn a degree in Masters of Business Economics. While she devoted eighteen years of her life to working as a Brand and Semiotics Consultant she has always felt a strong connection to the arts. Her interests spanned disciplines as she trained under eminent gurus – Shobha Broota in painting, Anis Siddiqui in calligraphy and Subrata De in sitar and Indian Classical Music.

This crisscrossing has had a profound effect on her artworks, bringing in an intra-disciplinary approach to her artistic practice, in addition to an idealised innovativeness (from her time spent working in the advertising world) as well as a profound sense of spirituality stemming from her deep thirst to learn more about the human condition which establishes Aiyana Gunjan’s singular vocabulary, too.

Unfettered by the formality of an academic education in art, Aiyana Gunjan has educated herself and used self-knowledge to open her mind and her heart to the universe, to sacred and personal spaces. It is this trajectory of thought, philosophy of transience which is fuelling Aiyana Gunjan’s language of art.

By Dr. Alka Pande Curator
Autum 2015