Interview with Yushaa Abdullah, Arabic Calligrapher, Zaria, Nigeria

There I was proclaiming how much I liked Ibrahim El Salahi’s incorporation of Arabic calligraphy in his works of art yesterday – and here comes an interview with an Arabic calligrapher in Nigeria, based at ABU in Zaria
Saturday, 14 September 2013 05:00 Written by Misbahu Bashir & Mustapha Bulama, Kaduna
It started with a child’s great love for drawing, then the inspiration that led to the passion to become an outstanding Calligrapher under the tutorship of a master. Yushaa Abdullahi, a staff of Department of Industrial Design, ABU Zaria, unveils his journey in becoming the only Arabic calligrapher in Nigeria. Excerpts
Weekly Trust: Tell us about yourself
Yushaa: I am Yushaa Abdullah, born in 1968 in Bauchi, attended Shekal Primary School and Government Comprehensive Day Secondary School all in Bauchi. I proceeded to the IRCICA Istanbul Turkey, where I was trained by the world’s number one master of calligraphy, Hattat Hasan Celebi, and I obtained my IJAZAT (International Higher Diploma) in Islamic Calligraphy of double category which avail for my title as HATTAT (Eminent Calligrapher). I attended, participated, and organized several exhibitions, seminars and workshops both at home and abroad. Presently I am a staff of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria with the Department of Industrial Design. I am also an IRCICA’s representative in African.
When did you start calligraphy?
Honestly, it will be difficult for me to remember exactly when. I loved drawing even as a little kid.  I started drawing before I even started primary school. Allah Has blessed me with beautiful hand writing; right from my childhood, people appreciated my hand writings in Arabic and Latin letters as well as my drawings even as a pupil. From the encouragement I got from my community, I was then inspired to start copying from the works of famous calligraphers of the Muslim world. I subsequently started my own personal calligraphy composition.
What sort of calligraphy do you do?
 I am well known with Islamic calligraphy, but I also practice Latin letters calligraphy.
What motivated you to go into calligraphy?
First, I have the belief that it is destiny. As the saying goes, if you are to die by the gun you would never die by the arrow. During my senior secondary education, I was advised to take science subjects, which I also did well, because I was among the best three science students who represented Bauchi State at the National Science Competition in the late 80s. But upon my graduation, I followed my stars and eventually became an artist. So it is my destiny. Second, I saw the fortune in calligraphy, because it requires little effort to make lots of money. Another benefit I derived from calligraphy is the popularity it gave me among my peers. These are a few among the reasons that motivated me into calligraphy.
Did you acquire any formal training?
Yes, I obtained my IJAZAT after I underwent five years of training program at the IRCICA Istanbul, Turkey. Here let me say with pride that I made this country, Nigeria, proud for being the first black person that obtained IJAZAT from Hattat Hasan Celebi and got certified by IRCICA. Secondl, I am the only Calligrapher to have produced Calligraphy composition that visually relates to migration and therefore qualified in participating in an International Art Exhibition organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Istanbul, in 2012. Third, my signature was selected among the signatures of the World’s Famous Calligraphers in History by the University of the Punjab, Pakistan. But the irony about this is that my country does not know that I made her proud, thus my inability to obtain scholarship or financial assistance even from my state government.
Tell us about the new ABU logo you designed?
The idea was conceived during the second year of my training. I observed some anomalies in the logo; the characters had not met with the international standards of the script. Also, the sitting arrangement was not done in accordance with the rule governing Arabic calligraphy composition. The old composition read “JA BELLO MI’ATU AHMADU instead of “JAMI’ATU AHMADU BELLO.” While wondering how to contact the ABU management about the error, luck  came my way in 2012 during the university’s 50th anniversary, the management decided to attach a motto to the logo, that was when I was contacted through the H.O.D Industrial Design. I then came up with a proposal for re-designing the entire logo to meet up   international standard and the idea was unanimously accepted and adopted by the university.
Do you do calligraphy as a hobby?
Yes, it was a hobby, but now it is a profession.
What are the job opportunities for Islamic calligraphy?
The opportunities are many; for example, the Holy Mosques of Mekkah and Medinah were decorated beautifully by calligraphers. Therefore they have work to do in mosques, corporate and residential buildings, greeting and invitation cards, wedding gifts, logo designs, banners, to mention but a few. Calligraphers always have something doing unless they feel otherwise. And most importantly, if you are a certified calligrapher you will be serving not only your country but the whole world.
What are the requirements before learning calligraphy?
Here I will give concern to the person who wishes to learn the art of calligraphy, not the tools that are required for calligraphic works. Any person who wishes to become a calligrapher must be an artist with the zeal, commitment and determination to withstand the challenges and rigors of the training, because it is time-consuming and practically difficult from the beginning. Therefore any person who has these qualities and courage would have the chance of becoming a calligrapher. Interestingly, now that I am the IRCICA’s representative here, it would be easier for Nigerians.  


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