An interview with Seyyed Reza Safavi;

The story and description of two panels

Razieh Rafiee
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


Note: The following interview is made with Seyyed Reza Safavi, a member of Iranian Calligraphers Association, has a first-class degree in this field, as well as a master of gilding and calligraphy-painting. In this interview, we describe the work life of him, as well as the two works produced by him and the artistic group named" Role in Role" about martyrs of mina[1] and martyrs of shrine's defenders.


Introduce yourself!

I am Seyyed Reza Safavi, I was born in Tehran in 1337(1958). My education is in Birjand, Mashhad and Tehran, and I am graduated from Sharif University of Technology in the field of electrical engineering. I have started artworks in Birjand since sixteen or seventeen years old and finally graduated from the Iranian Calligraphers Association in 1362(1983). I was as an instructor of calligraphers association in Tehran and Birjand, more than fifteen years old and then I cut my co-operation for some reasons. Somewhere about seventeen or eighteen years ago, I began to work on gilding and my last master was Mr. Akhavin. Then, I learned Nastaliq and Broken Nastaliq[2] script from the masters of Association and Arabian script from Arab masters.



Who taught you the art of gilding? And how long have you been training?

My masters were Mr. Aghamiri, Mehregan and Takestani, whom I mostly got help for my gilding work. Then I taught the calligraphy and gilding; the cerography was more than twenty years and the gilding was more than fifteen years. I currently do not teach anyone, just for ordering, and do it very rarely for my heart. Time and mood is not suitable.


What are you doing right now?

During the last seven and eight years, instead of classical performances, I combine several arts; calligraphy with painting, painting with calligraphy, calligraphy with both of them. I have also theoretically studied various art styles. I have tried to use them in Iranian art, for example, Cubism in Iranian calligraphy and Persian calligraphy, or, colorful performances of Expressionism with the works of calligraphy-painting. I think I have done it too late, because our traditional art is being easily and spontaneously followed by a large number of artists.

What was needed in Iranian art was a bold global expression and a universal language, so that Persian calligraphy shouldn’t not just a means of expressing poetry or texts. A work similar to one that the late Qajar’s[3] siyahmasq calligraphers, such as the late Mirza Gholam Reza. They used Nestaliq to make compositions, and I think their masterpieces were the same and have been less similar to this day.

Comparing Iran's art with outside of Iran, I thought it would be easy to compare the works of Mr. Mirza Gholamreza Esfahani in Nastaliq siyahmasq with works of artist such as Jackson Pollack. It took a bit of time and needs patience, insight and study and information, and this became more attractive to me. I worked on it, and gilding too. I thought about its design and form much more than the techniques of execution, and it became more interesting and interesting for me to end up with the educational aspect and to explore new studies and performances. Now, some of the works what I do can be used for board, salon and etc. including dimensions larger than one in one meter, which is usually not used in the home. I've recently been working on this style with group "Role in Role" in the field of painting, graphics, calligraphy, architecture, gilding, and Iranian painting, So that a combination of these works can be used and expressed in a city work for salons, hotels or public places.


What is the relationship between your field of study and your artistic experiences?

Well, I was graduated in the field of mathematics and then entered into the field of technical. The morality of technicians is usually inflexible, but the artistic had an effect on me; it made me a little flexible, but I never know the mood or result of my artwork comparable to my college work. All my life is still art. I have used that technical work as a job for life. It does not make much difference whether he wants to gain money from a electrical job, or, for example, from arts, but there are lots of heat and love that is not naturally in the technical field unless someone drops deep into it, for example, an artist in the field of mechanic, building or electrician, which is also possible; that is similar of great scholars. Immediately my life is imbued with art, music and literature.



How were you interested in calligraphy?

I have a master in Birjand who is worshipful and deserves praise. He was a teacher of art in our first and second grade of high school. Mr. Ghazai is a very skilful and capable painter. I was his student, and he was a teacher of honor at school about thirty years old. It wasn’t his main job, they was teaching art lovingly and as an honor. He apparently had found some talents in me that he began to cultivate and encourage; the rest was that he used to give me newspaper Kayhan and Information and … to paint by using their large headlines whenever I had spare time, and the interest, which perhaps wasn’t a learned one basically,  But he cultivated it. Then, I went to Mashhad and enjoyed and used the presence of master Mehdizadeh in Astan Quds. Then I was attracted by calligraphy gradually. One that really effect on me was when I looked at the first sample he wrote for me, and I thought I was six months away to get it. Whatever I wrote, I felt like He was moving away from me. Somewhere I felt I had to practice for one year, two or three years. It's as if I had a little bit of thirst for calligraphy; it wasn't in a faraway place, and how superficially I looked. For a while, I left calligraphy; I did not work for two or three years. Then, I found that I cannot live without writing at al. There is a hidden and strange attraction in calligraphy that I cannot compare it with painting, music, and dramatic arts, due to its abstract aspect.


Are the scripts of verses and poems in different? Is there any rule and principle in this regard?

In the world of calligraphy, it is costumed to write Quran's verses and hadiths in Kufic, the Nasq and Thuluth script[4] and sometimes in one or two other Arabic scripts. We write poetry and literary texts that do not have much lyrical, in Nastaliq script, and very lyrical works should be definitely written in Broken Nastaliq; This is customary and many calligraphers follow it, people are also accustomed to see it. For example, if you write Hafez's poetry in Nastaliq scrip, you feel that you have choked the poetry. If you write it in Nasq, if you, as if you are killing it. If write it by Thuluth, I won't read it, but when it is written by  Broken Nastaliq, as if an internal and external harmony are regarded together and calligrapher can transfer the meaning of the poetry easily. For example, for mosque inscriptions, the places that should be seen from a distance of ten meters, I need to use large alphabet of Thuluth script. It's obviously large font, but we have to write on paper by a one centimeter pen. If we write by Broken Nastaliq script, the paper will be left empty. If you write Nastaliq, the page will be filled. If you write by a Nasq script, it depends on whether or not space become appropriate, if you write by Thuluth, the paper won't have enough space. For rhythmic texts, like the verses of the Quran, the Thuluth and Nasq cannot be used. A calligrapher cannot write these texts in Nastaliq script, because Nastaliq is like a serious and neat man, and Broken Nastaliq is the same person who is a little in dancing. This script has rhythm that doesn't coincide with the spirituality of Qur'an. It can be inferred that it affects readers late, so we try to use a script that is consistent with the subject; except the time when you are in certain morality and reading Quran and write that verses in Broken Nastaliq, but it is my own and I cannot defend it. In short, I'd like to say that a particular text requires a pen at different sizes. There should be a definition of that script's sizes but except what was customary; in the past sixty and seventy years, when the calligrapher looks at the text sees the rhythm same with the rhythm of that script, and then thinks that if s/he write well, it will be affective.



What kind of scripts should be used for the translation of the Quran?

The translation of Quran should be very clear. The necessity of clarity requires that Quran should be written in clearest scripts whether it is Nastaliq or Nasq. Of course, Persians encounter with such problems more, but Arabs don’t have any problem for the clarity of script even if it is a Roghe[5] script; The words are not confused with the other words, but in the Broken Nastaliq, sometime we write three letters in one form, depending on which side you put the weight of pen. This needs expert, but since there should be no doubt and mistake, it is much better to use the clearest script, which include Nasq and Nastaliq. Because the text is Arabic and Nastaliqi is Iranian script, it is better to be written with the Nasq. Personally it is more attractive and more effective for me.


Tell a little about your exhibitions!

I've had about twenty or twenty five individual exhibitions and about ten or fifteen collective exhibitions. Maybe I've had about a thousand framed official works. Most of them are in the hand of others. I do not know where some of them are, and I do not even have a picture of some of them. It was not time for us to take photos of scripts and keep them as a keepsake. Because it was a training period, we Han not bias toward; I mean a good bias. Maintaining these works was something that did not happen, but it has been broadcasted. Now, sometimes I go somewhere and, for example, show a artwork and say that I've done it somewhere, we bought it or got it, that's enough. The end of the artwork is so far-fetched, I think as I've been working for over thirty five years, and I've been doing by art proficiency for thirty four years.


Have you had any foreign exhibitions?

Yes. My artworks have been taken some exhibitions


How were they welcomed?

I was said that they were very good, but sales were low.


You have an artwork called "Mina's Martyrs" that after a painful incident for pilgrims of Kaaba[6], created as a memorial one for these pilgrims. Is the work "Mina's Martyrs" Created by an order?

Yes. Seven or eight months after the incident, this work was ordered by the Director General of Ferdowsi Organization of Khorasan Razavi. The dimensions of this work are exactly in two meters in five meters and consists of three pieces. The canvas is a composite, on which a cover is used, and then an handwork is done on it.


Speak a little about this work!

At the right side of the work, the word "Bani Adam" that is written in "Broken Nastaliq" with a series of dotes, can be seen; it means you see some dots in the heart of artwork. Subsequently, the word "Bani Adam" begins gradually as an avid mass; we have tried to show the avidness with the dance of Broken Nastaliq. Then, this primary plan, which was embedded in dark colors, it slowly turns into bright green, blue and yellow, and the purpose is  to show  the change of the mood of people who is coming to circle around Kaaba. And the script turned into Nastaliq, its difference with the Broken Nastaliq is that it is more regular and orgnizad and has a framework; it means as the script enters the Hajj ceremony, he gets out of it and leaves it, and officially has a frame. The best choice for this part of the work was Nastaliq, because it's known as a very solid script with frame. We are not allowed to disturb the sizes in Nastaliqi, such as the limitation of a pilgrim, and there are a lot of do and does. In the calligraphy world, these rules are included only in Nastiqliq, even they are not in Thuluth which is one of the strongest Islamic script. The metaphor for being pilgrim is that they are bright in color. Now the first plan ends and we enter into the second plan; in the center, there is Kaaba which is in a dimensional form with a sixty-degree view. Now, all those who are circling the Kaaba, their appearance is united, but in different sizes, and all are white. In other words, the form and appearance are united. The circling around the Kaaba has a delicate point, and it is that the size of these letters is different, they are both thin and thick, they are back and forth, and this is an metaphor for being same and simulated order; it means that the one who is close to Kaaba is not in difference with others who are far from it. We wanted to say that the environment did not require exceptions. When this circling ended, they slowly entered into the process of being hajji[7]. Hereafter, the words will be called Hajji. We show the incident (i.e. the event occurred in Mina) in the third plan with a density, lots of words "Hajji" can be seen whose ground is red, as a sign of blood. Of course, there pligrams was died for choking, and we tried to blend with the word martyrdom, which indicates blood and red color. At the end of work, some red-colored droplet was poured on paper, like drops of blood, because in our perspective, the incident was occurred due to the lack of control and management of the controlling officers of Mecca. However, the density that is a sign, is shown as a rotary, and ultimately souls flies as a white bird are shown above the incident. These bird return to the center of the board, which is a Kaaba and illustrated by a brightly color. This return has a delicate point; in our perspective, the divine souls return to their origin and showed this return to the origin by flying towards the Kaaba. It was an incident, but from another point of view it was a divine providence and fate. One of my townsman who was my friend attended in the incident, and I was aware he completed his religious process in there came only to help and never returned home.

The coloring of this work is in the form of earthly colors and opaque; the higher we go, the upper and the right, it has a sky color, and ends up on the top left of the board in green and yellow. The difference between these two areas is that before the Hajj's journey, the sky of all these people was the blue that we all of us have it and then light is added to it. When you mix yellow with blue, the green is created. Actually, it looks like a spotlight, and the bruise on the bottom of the board that is too brute, is a sign of the unworthy people who are working there. We wanted to show the darkness of that government and that system and that incapable officials that the incident was due to this lack of management and lack of planning. We did not want to draw Kaaba exactly similar to the current Kaaba so that this part of the work does not close to reality.


There is another artwork called "Martyrs of Shrine's defenders" created by you in Paradise Reza of Mashhad. Please tell a little about this effect!



After this performance in Paradise Reza, it was suggested to do an artwork named "the Martyrs of Mina" for the martyrs of the shrine who are close to the martyrs of Mina. They said that in some special nights, a ceremony is held at this place and everyone gather here; we want to console the families of these loved ones by installing a memorial artwork. They wanted to be done using the Mina panel design, i.e., highlighting and compositing with waterproof materials, because that place was constantly exposed to sun, snow, rain and wind, and that they should be kind of certain materials that can be durable. That panel has been performed in two pieces, because both the thematic space was to be done and we had to do the time splitting. There were various curtains that did not coincide in time, and even if they had to stick together and not be on the same line, its strength and stability should be suitable not to be injured in the great wind, and the air can pass through this panel. We also embedded this feature, which was eventually implemented in two panels measuring two meters in five meters. The right side is the Karbala desert, the incident of Karbala[8] and, of course, the Ashura[9] era; tents were burned or burning, and dusty climate. In addition, you see the smoke to the right side of the work, where palms and tents are drowned in colors and you see tents in burning that are two wings as a sign and the flight of the soul from above them. In this table, there is a delicate thing; we showed that day a bit bloody and red, and miniature small clouds were also performed. We have a tiny rainfall of these small clouds on the tents that are reds, as if the sky is crying. In this panel, we have the flag "Ya Hussein[10] (AS)" and the flag "Ya Zinab" who wanted to show the flags to the right of panel in the waving state.

Inside the second piece, we have the courtyard of Shrine of Hazrat Zeinab[11], and then the nave, and as far as we move to left side of the image, we approach the entrance of the shrine, and the dome of our shrine, and when we pass after the shrine, there are some flames and bird that are symbol of souls are ascending. By the suggestion of someone who ordered the panel, we removed the nave slightly, and instead a few punched knives were used as a sign of the shrine's defenders there. And above the shrine of the same scene, the sky and the small clouds show a kind of oriented motion to the top of the shrine's dome. Finally, the work was carried out by using the materials mentioned above. The painting work is much than the calligraphy, and it is, using Ma'ali script, written in bold on the panel "All days are Ashura and the all lands are Karbala". We tried to show "all lands are Karbala" close to the ground, referring to Earth, and "All days are Ashura" close to the sky, because it refers to time. There are inscriptions on the panel, including the inscription on the transom of the shrine of Zaynab (SA). This inscription is noteworthy because it is from Imam Shafi'i[12].

In a way, we just thank God and we cannot compensate the right, and I'm sure that God has mercy more on what human being deserves, and that God's mercy is involve us. If we were to be grateful for our capability, the situation would be very bad. But there are some apparent issues that sometimes occur inevitably, sometimes with human interventions, but in general, there are no complaints and I'm thankful. But in short, the artists are in low expectation and peaceful and effective. An artist sometimes can work as a ministry, and officials have often experienced and known it. The art festivals will be ended someday, but art and thought never end. When a work is performed by an artist, it will be communicated by addresses, and the words of artist will be transferred. The artist is in his/her works and the shortest and most unpopular and most effective artwork can be expressed in best way. A successful community uses the ideas of its artists.


[1] Mina is a neighborhood of Mecca Province, in western Saudi Arabia. It is situated 5 kilometers to the east of the Holy city of Mecca, and stands on the road from Mecca's city center to the Hill of Arafat. 

[2] These are kinds of Iranian scripts

[3] The Qajar dynasty was an Iranian royal dynasty of Turkic origin, specifically from the Qajar tribe, which ruled Persia from 1794 to 1925. The state ruled by the dynasty was officially known as the Sublime State of Persia.

[4] These are three kinds of Islamic scripts

[5] letter

[6] The Kaaba, also referred as al-Kaʿbah al-Musharrafah, is a building at the center of Islam's most important mosque that is Al-Masjid Al-Ḥarām, in the Hejazi city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is the most sacred site in Islam.

[7] It is a title which is originally given to a Muslim person who has successfully completed the Hajj to Mecca

[8] Karbala is a city in central Iraq, located about 100 km southwest of Baghdad, and a few miles east of Lake Milh. Karbala is the capital of Karbala Governorate, and has an estimated population of 700 thousand people.

[9] It is the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar.

[10] He was a grandson of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, and son of Ali ibn Abi Talib and Muhammad's daughter, Fatimah. He is an important figure in Islam as he was a member of the Bayṫ of Muhammad and the Ahl al-Kisā', as well as the third Shia Imam.

[11] She was one of the daughters of the fourth caliph and the first Shia imam, ‘Ali and his first wife Fatimah. The Islamic Nabi Muhammad was her maternal grandfather, and thus she is a member of his Bayt.

[12] He was an Arab Muslim theologian, writer, and scholar, who was the first contributor of the principles of Islamic jurisprudence.

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