Former British ambassador and Iraqi artist share love of calligraphy in new Yunus Emre Institute exhibition

To mark its seventh birthday, the Yunus Emre Institute in London is presenting a new art exhibition – Art in Letters ­– ­at its Bloomsbury venue. It brings together the artistic works of Dr Ömer Kasim Kahya and Sir Terence Clark, two seemingly different men. One is from the East, the other from the West, of different ages, faiths and professional backgrounds, yet both connected by their love of Islamic art and exceptional skill as calligraphers.

Sir Terence Clark is a former British diplomat and respected Arabist who served across the Middle East, including as Ambassador to Iraq (1985–1989). It was during this time that he took a course in calligraphy at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad. Later, in retirement in the UK, he continued to study calligraphy and Islamic design, as well as authoring several books.

Some forty years his junior is Mosul-born Dr. Ömer Kasim Kahya is an accomplished calligrapher, author, artist and academic. A graduate in Fine Arts from the University of Baghdad, Kahya moved to Turkey in 2007 to pursue his studies, gaining his doctorate from the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University last year. For the past decade, he has travelled the globe lecturing on Islamic art history and exhibiting his artistry, while also receiving instruction in calligraphy from some of the most notable figures in the Middle East, such as Nabeel al Shareefy and Davut Bektaş.

Opening to the public next Wednesday, 8 November, the Art in Letters exhibition will feature 22 striking pieces by the two men, portraying a mixture of traditional and modern styles of Islamic calligraphy, where words and letters provide a rich aesthetic and powerful form of expression.

Clark often opts for playful shapes that are inspired by the words of poets, such as Mevlana Rumi to create a whirling dervish, and a hunting poem by Abu Nuwas that form a Saluki (Persian greyhound, pictured above). Kahya draws on Islamic prayers that are simply beautiful to look at, while also offering Muslims familiar with Arabic script a tranquil and spiritually-comforting series of visuals.

Yunus Emre Enstitüsü London director Mehmet Karakuş said: “We are delighted to host this wonderful collection of calligraphy. On paper, the lives of Sir Terence and Dr Kahya are poles apart, but as this magnificent exhibition shows, their appreciation of this classical art form and their ability to create original contemporary calligraphy transcends geography and culture. It’s a truly fitting way for us to celebrate our seventh birthday in London.”

Talismanic shirt calligraphy by Dr Ömer Kasim Kahya


Although calligraphy is not unique to Islamic culture, the versatile and imaginative ways it has been used across the Islamic world for centuries means the art form has evolved and transcended far beyond the literal meaning of the Arabic letters and words that are drawn. Calligraphic inscriptions are derived from religious texts, poems and aphorisms, gracing decorative plates, coins, glass, metal, textiles, ceramics and wall hangings, as well as adding a colourful elegance to holy scripts. Expert practitioners must not only intimately understand the Arabic alphabet, but also possess the techniques to create vivid strokes that transmit key text by forming striking visuals.

Art in Letters, organised jointly with the Turkish Culture and Tourism Office, opens with a private viewing at the Yunus Emre Institute London on 7 November – seven years to the day it first opened its doors to the British capital. It is one 55 branches around the world, which have the shared aim of promoting the history, culture and language of Turkey.

The Institute plays an important role in education and culture: it is one of the primary places in Britain to learn Turkish and its Maple Street building houses an extensive library that is open to students and academics. The venue also plays host to a wide array of classes and events that teach and promote traditional and contemporary Turkish art and culture.

Exhibition details

Name: Art in Letters

Dates: Opens Wednesday 8 November, closes Friday 8 December 2017

Venue: Yunus Emre Enstitüsü London, 10 Maple Street, Bloomsbury, London W1T 5HA

Opening Hours: Mon-Thurs, 10am to 8pm; Fri-Sat, 10am to 6pm; closed Sundays.

Admission: Free, but prior registration is needed either via Eventbrite or by emailing: