A Cuban Artist Pays Tribute to Ottoman Calligraphy

An exhibition by a Cuban artist in Istanbul expresses the respect of the artist toward the Ottoman calligraphy and traditional art forms.

Abdullah Ayasun
3 min readSep 22, 2019


José Parlá (Photo Credit: The Guide Istanbul)

New York-based Cuban Artist José Parlá, in his first exhibition in Turkey, reveals his devotion and deep respect for the traditional art of Ottoman calligraphy with his recent works.

The Turkish exhibition goers and lovers of traditional art will have a great opportunity to evaluate the works of the Cuban artist, a representative of a new breed of global artists whose works entail very diverse themes and topics around the world.

The “ISTHMUS” exhibition in Istanbul ‘74 will take place at the same time along with the 16th Istanbul Biennale this year. Parlá’s acquaintance with the Ottoman calligraphy goes back to his first trip to Istanbul in 1999 when he was inspired and moved by the traditional art he saw during his sojourn in Turkey’s largest city.

He writes in a manifesto about his attraction to calligraphy:

When I first visited Istanbul in 1999, its people and their beautiful environment fascinated me. I felt an immediate connection to the city as somehow it also reminded me of Havana, Cuba, the home of my parents. The energy of the Bosporus River, the walls of the town and the calligraphy inscribed on temple walls were inspiring at first sight.

The “Isthmus” is not an ordinary word chosen by the artist.

“The title Isthmus is a symbolic one for me as it means a narrow strip of land with the sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land. The City of Istanbul, with its infamous river, is part of a strip of land connecting two continents, Asia and Europe, physically, symbolically, and metaphorically connecting the East and the West.”

Whatever its literal and semantic origins, the word’s practical implications for geography still have relevance today. The difference is not on a literal level, but maybe on an aesthetic level, depends on someone’s choosing and taste.

Raised in Brooklyn, New York City, Parlá immersed in graffiti throughout his career. But he was drawn to handwriting in his…



Abdullah Ayasun

New York-based journalist and writer. Columbia School of Journalism. 2023 White House Correspondents' Association Scholar. Twitter: @abyasun