TRACING THE SCRIBE
TITLE: TRACING THE SCRIBE
BOOK SIZE: closed: 11” W x 8” H – open: 11” W x 20.5” H
BOX: 12" W x 8.75" H x 7/8" D
MATERIALS: Stonehenge paper, book board, felt and Japanese bookcloth, gold & silver sheen paper and Japanese marble paper and bookcloth. Magnetic closure. Acrylic inks.
DATE: October 2021-23
EDITION: 5 Copies (including Artist's proof which is NFS)
A scribe is a person who copies out documents… A person employed
before printing was invented to make copies of documents, manuscripts...
… As a verb scribe is: to write.
Tracing the Scribe is an artist’s book inspired by my fascination with the earliest forms of writing—illuminated manuscripts and, especially, the codices of early Islamic eras. One of the most beautiful ancient Qur’ans in the world is known as the Blue Qur’an, which dates to the 9th-10th century, however the dating, location of origin, and patron of the Blue Qur’an are unknown and have been the subject of academic debate. I have long marveled at its pages, written with gold ink on indigo-dyed vellum.
My book is a tribute to its beauty; it stirred me to respond.
Approximately one hundred detached leaves from this Qur’an are held in private and public collections around the world, including those of The Met, LACMA, the Seattle Art Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, The Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, and the National Library in Tunis, which holds sixty-seven pages. The complete Blue Qur’an manuscript is estimated to include 600 parchment folios. Its production materials alone boggle the mind, incorporating an estimated 150 sheepskins.
My book is based on a beautiful section from the chapter called Surah Fatir within the Blue Qur’an. The graceful, almost abstract lines I copied in my own hand are in a script known as the Arabic Kufic script. I particularly love the style and it’s thought that 7th century scribes were the ones to develop it, naming it after the city of Kufa located in present day Iraq.
I was inspired to copy this particular folio not only because the sinuous lines are so elegant, but also because its message is compelling and resonant for those of religions other than Islam. After some sleuthing, I’ve been able to identify the chapter and its verses. The work continued with the process of copying and recopying a page written by an ancient scribe—making it my own as an artist in the 21st century—all this has been a learning journey for me. Tracing the original unnamed scribe’s letters, I followed his hand while also adding my own touches. In doing this, I felt the sense of being one with the scribe. I find it amazing that someone like me, with an elementary level of classical Arabic education, can actually manage to read a 9th-10th century folio without special academic expertise!
For the overall design I chose a traditional Islamic book structure and complemented it by incorporating Arabesque ornamental motifs from around the 12th century. I also included a facsimile of the folio with what are called diacritical marks. Unless one already knows the passages by heart, it’s these red dots that help readers differentiate one Arabic letter from another and decipher the text.
My wish is for others to enjoy this artist’s book not just as a religious text, but in multi-dimensional ways: a work of art in its own right, a vehicle to honor a scribe who lived some 1200 years ago, and as a testament to history’s long arc of learning and creativity. This tradition stretches from those who lived before the anonymous Blue Qur’an scribe to those who will be born after me. I dedicate this book to those who preceded the printing press, the centuries of scribes, writers, and artists creating beautiful tablets, scrolls, manuscripts, codices, books. It’s their copying, lettering, painting, illuminating, printing, and binding
that preserves our collective history and elevates our humanity. Their writing is posterity itself.
Tania Baban —