Little Lessons in Kuala Lumpur

A visit to the Islamic Art Museum Malaysia meeting calligraphy practitioner, Mr Azmir Karim and his master calligrapher teacher, Puan Citi Yousoff. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia [2013 Dec 18-19].


The little trip down to Kuala Lumpur is the only space of 96 hours of break we’re left with. After that, we will be clocking back to the hectic madness of the Lion City. Meeting up with friends and relatives, help us to stretch our breaths a little more out of the grey matter. And meeting up some new friends and special people spice up the excitement a little more.

Awhile back, a visit from a Malaysian calligraphy practitioner down to Singapore wrapped up in some few fruitful hours of introduction and exchanging experiences. Now, we took this opportunity to meet up with this gentleman, and also his teacher. Azmir Karim has been practising khat (Arabic calligraphy) for more than two years now, under the tutelage of Puan Citi Yousoff, a Malaysian female master calligrapher. Puan Citi graduated with an Ijaza (Diploma) in Islamic calligraphy in Thuluth and Nasakh scripts under the tutelage of the Honourable Hassan Celebi, a great master calligrapher in Turkey. Having learning khat through Puan Citi, Azmir also receives the opportunity to learn with other great master calligraphers such as Efdaluddin Kilic, Ferhat Kurlu, Mohamed Zakariya, and also Hassan Celebi, and was very kind to share us his invaluable experiences in having lessons and sessions with them. His personal experiments in developing handmade soot inks and handmade Turkish Ahar paper are truly great insights for us in the holistic crafts that makes up the traditions of classical calligraphy. Nevertheless, some great master calligraphers are also master paper makers and master illumination artists themselves.

We met up at Islamic Art Museum of Malaysia (IAMM), in conjunction with a special exhibition: “Nun Wa Al Qalam Contemporary Muslim Calligraphy” featured from 10th December 2013 to 10th May 2014. Presenting an interesting array of artworks of 36 artists from 8 different countries, the contemporary calligraphy pieces project different depths and textures of the messages conveyed. As our introductions went along observing the artworks, I was very careful in capturing the variety of visual finishing, especially in the layers and techniques, depressed and blind strokes, fine colour masking, clean printmaking,  geometrical constructions, metallic effects, all these as much as possible, trying to understand how the effects of the artwork are being achieved in order to relay or portray the desired visual messages. And all these are composed of nothing but purely alphabets. It is amazing, inspiring and encouraging. It is philosophical, mystical, magical, rustic, stoic, clean, and full of absolute solitude.

Puan Citi is also an MA holder in Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts from Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, UK. Our conversation moved on from the exhibition gallery to the museum restaurant for a calligraphy session. We settled down on a square dining table by the glass wall-window, where Azmir took out his meshq (practise folios) of nasakh and thuluth scripts for her inspection and correction. I took this chance to observe and learn as much as I could, from what a student had done and every little note that the teacher indicates. Following, I took out my thuluth meshq for her inspection and correction. I have been waiting for this opportunity, so I’ve prepared my meshq much earlier in the week. As she corrected my meshq, I was told to correct on my lettering proportions and to enlarge my pen’s nib. She demonstrated and exaggerated certain techniques in creating letters in order for me to understand the master letterings of Sevki Efendi. In all, her comments are motivating and encouraging, and for sure I have to redo the meshq to have it inspected again. While my teacher is faraway in Istanbul, I felt rejuvenated to have a master calligrapher to guide and check on my practise within this Malay Peninsula. For all these, thanks to Azmir Karim for his kind hospitality and the special arrangement with his teacher. It is good to have a teacher to check and guide your work. It is always good.

Soon, Puan Citi was testing out a modified qalam (pen) created by Azmir, where he has been experimenting with customised reservoir clips to attach to the pen’s nib. It must have been a challenging pursuit for a left-hander like Azmir, to learn from the common right-handers. The handling and discipline of crafting letters may impose certain advantages and disadvantages, and I will keep this in mind to study his practise when I get to meet him again. Ultimately, he reminded me the story of Mehmed Es’ad al-Yesari, the great left-hander Ottoman calligrapher.


Our meeting ended when Puan Citi had to go off to attend her busy schedule. I was truly grateful for her time spending with us. The rest of us continued for a walk out to Pasar Seni for our late lunch. We ended up having our first and private visit to the Skybridge of Petronas Twin Tower, and had a long late afternoon conversation together with Azmir’s wife, Erna. It was truly a good exchange until we separated our ways in the evening.





*To learn more about Puan Citi Yousoff please visit her website at:

*Nun Wa Al Qalam Contemporary Muslim Calligraphy exhibition is featured at Islamic Art Museum of Malaysia (IAMM) from 10th December 2013 to 10th May 2014. More information can be found at website:

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