Shamsul Iqbal Shams Calligrapher Determined to Keep Ancient Art Alive in Swat

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Shamsul Iqbal Shams, a local calligrapher, is determined to keep alive the ancient art of carving on barks and stones even in this era of modern technology.

Born in 1957 in Saidu Sharif, he has copied more than 500 manuscripts of different poets and writers on barks and stones. His father Fazl-i-Rehman Faizn, a renowned calligrapher and poet, was also official correspondent of the last ruler of the former Swat state.

According to Mr Shams, he has learnt the art of calligraphy from his father. He says that writing on different natural things like barks of trees, leather and stones appealed him since childhood.

“Composing books and copying did not attract me so I stopped composing and started carving on stones, barks and leather pieces in 1978. I feel an internal satisfaction in doing so,” he told Dawn.

Mr Shams said that people praised his art pieces which encouraged him. “I have produced over 5,000 art pieces till date and will continue to do so till my last breath,” he said.

A guestroom in his house is his workplace where he sits among hundreds of art pieces, some lying scattered on the ground, some placed on the shelves and some fixed on the walls while other hang from tree branches.

Mr Shams said that he often used barks of the birch trees for his calligraphy. Birch barks had also been used for writing and calligraphy in ancient times.

The oldest birch bark manuscripts are believed to have found in Gandharan Buddhist texts, circa 1st century CE.

“The birch tree grows in our forests in Swat. It is easily available so I often use the barks of birch tree for my calligraphy,” he said, adding that he had also written the Holy Quran on birch bark.

Mr Shams uses variety of items including barks of trees, leaves, bones, river stones, dried pumpkins, gourds, bottle gourds, corncobs, tree branches, leather, wood planks and wooden bowls etc for his calligraphy.

Most of the masterpieces he has produced by using the inner bark of papyrus plant, usually grown in the upper part of Mahodand Lake in Swat. The history of using papyrus for writing and calligraphy goes back to 3000 BC when people in Egypt started cutting papyrus plants, grown by the Nile. It is said that papyrus played an important role in the history of writing and almost every book in the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Greece and Rome was made of papyrus.

“There is a unique look of the art pieces composed on papyrus bark and I like to produce more and more,” he said.

Mr Shams wanders in far flung areas to find unique stones as according to him stone calligraphy has different look and attracts people. He said that computer replaced calligraphers and only few people were left to practice the art. “Calligraphy must not disappear as it is an art, very beautiful and important, reminding us the beginning of writing by human beings,” he said.

Mr Shams said that the young generation did not want to learn the art. “I have tried to teach calligraphy to youngsters but nobody is taking interest in it. I am afraid the art will fade away soon and the future generation will be ignorant of the calligraphy art,” he added.

Mr Shams said that government should take steps to preserve the art by starting its classes for the young generation.

Although he has received appreciation from people during small scale exhibitions held in Swat, Peshawar, Islamabad and Lahore, yet the government has not recognised his services.

Shamsul Iqbal Shams Calligrapher Determined to… by PakistanArt
(Video Source, swatnewsweb’s channel)

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