Bound in striking turquoise, this heavy and elegant coffee table book instantly attracts the attention of all. Through beautifully illustrated calligrams, The Conference of the Birds recites the story of thirteen birds in search of their mythological king – the Simorgh. In depicting characteristics found in human nature, each bird allegorizes reason for not embarking on their spiritual journey.
The culminated work of Farrah K. Behbehani is based on a twelfth-century Sufi allegorical poem written by the Persian poet and mystic Farid ud-Din Attar. However, unlike other composed work on calligraphy, The Conference of the Birds goes one step further to embark both viewer and calligrapher on a creative journey together. The mystical component of this illustrative work is manifested two-fold: Farrah’s ability to exquisitely interpret the classic poems in Jali Diwani script, in which she apprenticed countless hours under the renowned calligrapher Khaled al-Saai in order to master; and, Farrah, has painstakingly created a meticulous system for following the intricate movements of the calligrapher.
During her transatlantic book launch – which began in Kuwait, stopped in London, came to Jeddah, on to the UAE and is scheduled to finish in New York – Farrah explained to viewers the theory behind the illustrations, “the system is designed to enable readers to understand the meaning, reading direction and flow of the calligraphy, giving greater insight into the intricacies of Arabic script.”
Incorporating her mastery of graphic design, Farrah has combined free hand visual arts with precise spherical patterns and rendered something quite extraordinary. Upon opening the book, the eye is greeted with allegorical calligrams on one page, while unfolding the other side of the page reveals the calligraphers’ movements in spherical fashion through color distinction.
Farrah explains the concept of the book, “each chapter begins with a passage from the book, followed by the name of the bird in Jali Diwani. A line from the Arabic version of the poem (with a literal English translation) that represents the essence of each story is then illustrated and broken into its component elements using the system explained on the bookmark. The system is designed to enable readers to understand the meaning, reading direction and flow of the calligraphy, giving greater insight into the intricacies of Arabic script.”
Through this project, Farrah aims “to celebrate Eastern culture in the West, creating a bridge between these two worlds and spreading light upon some beautiful mythologies of the East.”
Visual interpretation pick up, where endless explanation trail off. As they say, seeing is believing.