Uğur Derman is a legend. He is quite possibly the foremost historian of Islamic calligraphy in the world, and has been studying calligraphy’s history, practice, and culture for more than half a century.
He went to school for pharmacology, and in fact there is a pharmacy in Beyoğlu called Derman Eczanesi (Derman Pharmacy), but in 1955 he discovered Ottoman calligraphy and it began a lifelong passion which has become his legacy to the world.
Last Wednesday, I met Mr Derman in Ortaköy at the Turkpetrol Vakfi Müzesi (Turkpetrol Foundation Museum), a collection he has put together over the past several years showcasing an incredible gallery of calligraphy, implements, books, and book art tools. It was among the most impressive collections I have ever seen, and in my opinion even surpassed the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum in Sultanahmet. Most of the calligraphy was from twentieth-century calligraphers, some living, some dead. All of it was spectacular.
He studied for his Icazet (calligraphy diploma) with the famous Ottoman calligrapher Necmeddin Ökyay (1883-1976), based out of Üsküdar, and earned his Icazet in 1960. He has taught traditional book arts and calligraphy at Marmara University, Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, and at the Institute of Turkish Studies since 1961.
Leather embossing stamps for book covers.
In addition to calligraphy, Mr Derman is also an expert on the history and practice of Turkish and Ottoman book arts, marbling (ebru), inlay work, and other traditional Islamic arts. He has curated dozens of exhibits around the world, among them in Cairo (1976), Jeddah (1980) Chicago (1987) Baghdad (1988), Kuwait (1992), Islamabad (1994), again in Cairo (1997) and Tunisia (1997). He has sat on the judging panel of IRCICA (Research Center for Islamic Art, History, and Culture) for several years.
He has more than 247 publications to his name, and a book commemorating his 65th birthday and the contributions he has made to the field was published in 2000, with articles by some of the most major names in the field of Arabic and Islamic arts contributing articles.
All photos by Rachael Strecher.