Project Statement

To Contain and To Serve: A Dialogue in Calligraphy and Ceramics, is a collaboration between Arabic-Persian calligrapher Arash Shirinbab and ceramicist Forrest Lesch-Middelton.
The dialogue centers on the interplay of hospitality, morality and justice in contemporary cultural and media landscapes,  resulting in a series of calligraphy-inscribed ceramics inspired by the Persian ‘Nishapur’ tradition.

Traditional calligraphy typically requires a ‘container,’ usually a page, object or building. At its best, the function of the object and the calligraphy inscribed upon it are in great harmony, both serving the larger purpose of expanding the awareness of the user/visitor. For this project, the artists are creating a series of ceramic wares and tiles via traditional ceramics and calligraphy practices that convey on/through them mostly contemporary messages that reference personal and societal peace and conflict. Such messages –coming from a range of sources that include traditional Sufi poetry, tweets from individuals living through recent times of conflict (such as Iran/Syria/Iraq/Afghanistan/Yemen) and contemporary poems from these area – are being inscribed and transferred on to ceramic pieces.

The objects are at once grounded in tradition while in dialogue with contemporary issues and voices.The pieces strive to convey a tradition’s aesthetic beauties without fetishizing them as objects frozen in time, available to the highest bidder. The quotidian nature of the objects reflects a key idea in this project: the deep-seated Islamic value of human hospitality. The interactions created while hosting, eating and drinking together create strong social fabric. In tough times, we keep returning to the basics.

Integral to this project is a public event at ICCNC’s Gallery Space in which guest-attendees are served food on some of the vessels and dishes created from this collaboration– emphasizing the ‘art’ of hospitality at the heart of Islamic culture. Central to the endeavor is not just traditional calligraphy and ceramics practice but also one building itself, ICCNC’s historic Moorish Revival building near Lake Merritt and downtown Oakland: a space (or container) which increasingly asks how it can best ‘serve’ diverse Muslim and non-Muslim communities through the arts; Addressing the question that how we can honor roots of Islamic tradition and grow a creative community in a changing modern multicultural society.