For a refugee the simple art of calligraphy has become his path to identity.

Sayed Ali Karam Jawhary, who now lives in Grey Lynn, wants to share his culture with Kiwis through his art.

"My responsibility as a calligrapher is to convey the beauty in the writing of work which has been done in older times to the current age and bring it to a manifestation of how beauty can go beyond time and space.

"[Calligraphy] directly affects the way I relate to the people around me and to wider society and the way I understand social relationships."

Afghan refugee Sayed Ali Karam Jawhary has been practising calligraphy for over 25 years. Photo / Red Cross
Afghan refugee Sayed Ali Karam Jawhary has been practising calligraphy for over 25 years. Photo / Red Cross

The Afghan man was the first refugee the Auckland Refugee Family Trust brought into New Zealand five years ago.

Jawhary was only a teenager when he was forced to flee Afghanistan for Iran.

"I was only a 15 year old when I realised Afghanistan was engaged in war, killings, fire and a lot of other serious disasters. This unfortunately has been ongoing ever since and I have been witnessing all this through my life ... It seems to me I'm always on the move."

His brother was eventually granted the right to settle in New Zealand and later applied for a family reunification visa for Jawhary and his family. In 2013 the visa was granted and Jawhary was able to move here with his son who is now studying pharmacy in Dunedin.

But it was in his time in Iran that Jawhary first discovered calligraphy. Now aged 52, he has done it for 37 years.

"First it was the combination of the letters and how they fit together which attracted my eye to that beautifully adjacent structure. The second thing was the semantics, the meaning behind the characters which were beautifully stuck together in a piece of writing."

One of Sayed Ali Karam Jawhary's artworks. Photo / Red Cross
One of Sayed Ali Karam Jawhary's artworks. Photo / Red Cross

A Rumi poem titled Listen to the bamboo pen when it starts to retell, particularly inspired Jawhary. He has named his first solo exhibition The Reed Pen's Tale after it.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī was a 13th century Persian poet. He was very prolific, one of his major works, the Maṭnawīye Ma'nawī, contains 27,000 lines of Persian poetry.


"One of the things that comes frequently in my writing is the story of the bamboo pen, which is a story about love and life and the ups and downs that people undergo in this world," Jawhary told the Herald.

"It's about love and kindness and about how we can be a good person for society."

One of the most difficult parts of calligraphy is finding the right ingredients. The back of posters have become Jawhary's canvas as he struggles to find glossy calligraphy paper that his homemade bamboo pens can slide across.

When he first arrived in the country, Ali was unable to practise because he couldn't find the resources.

"I couldn't find the paper, the ink, the bamboo, anything," he said.

"I was searching all over the city and fortunately we found a shop that sold art equipment and they had some ink which got me started."

Art of Change, a group that supports refugee artists, is fundraising to frame Jawhary's artworks for the exhibition. A framing company has agreed to frame the works for the cost of materials. Around 15 frames are needed for the works estimated to cost up to $4500.

Jawhary recently exhibited two pieces in a show called Where Shall We Call Home? which featured over 50 artists supporting refugee resettlement in Aotearoa.

Sayed Ali Karam Jawhary's exhibition The Reed Pen's Tale can be found at the Depot Artspace in Devonport between December 2 and 20.

Visit Jawhary's Givealittle page to donate.