Meaning and Calligraphy: A Conversation with Turkish master Mustafa Cemil Efe

Mustafa Cemil Efe

Mustafa Cemil Efe

For Turkish master calligrapher Mustafa Cemil Efe, it was his father who instilled the love of the arts. He has been exposed to art from an early age and truly believes in the power of the art, and the lines of text and meaning behind it.

Efe was born in Ankara, Turkey. He studied traditional arts at Selçuk University and then later received his graduate degree from Mimar Sinan Fine Art University. Efe started studying calligraphy in 2004 under the late professor Fevzi Günüç.

Efe has participated over 100 exhibitions, including countries like, Turkey, Japan, the Vatican, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and many more. His work can be found in both private and public collections and in national and international government offices. In fact in 2013, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, gifted a calligraphic piece by Efe to President Barack Obama.

Apart from calligraphy, the multi-talented Efe is also a graphic designer, cinematographer, literary editor and author.

I recently had the rare opportunity to interview Efe, who shared his journey to the traditional arts. He also briefly talked about his recent exhibition sub-titled, “Lucky Frames,” that took place in April at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul where he displayed over 100 calligraphic pieces in antique frames that he collected from different parts of the world.

 How did you get interested in Islamic Calligraphy?

 It is my father who directed me to the art of calligraphy. My father is a miniature artist, but also a historian and writer.

My childhood was spent between art and history books. I slept in a library with more than 20,000 books, and I woke up every day among those books. I think those books were my real inspiration. But, my father's guidance is also very important to me. He wanted me to be an artist and now he says he's proud of me. So, I am very happy. Now, I've directed my daughter to learn the Art of Illumination (tezhip). This has become like a tradition for our family. I hope she is also able to pass on the love of this art to her children.  Currently, calligraphy is not where it should be. I hope in the future we are able to spread the real beauty of this art and have people understand the verses or lines that we write. If we are successful in displaying the beauty of this art, other people will definitely be directed to it as well.


What inspires you to come up with your compositions?

When I want to write, I open the Holy Quran. I choose a verse and I start to write this verse. Sometimes I read a book. Then I think about a sentence. Often, I find a new idea in my trips. When I travel I am inspired by nature around me, like forests, the sea or mountains. It allows me to think a lot. I like travelling. I feel the earth and beauty. Finally, I decide what to write. I get inspired by the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings, books and the nature.

 Can you tell us about your recent exhibition, “Lucky Frames.” How did you come up with the concept?


“Lucky Frames” is very important for me because I studied a lot for this exhibition.  Sometime ago when I went to Paris, I visited an antique shop. I found an old frame there and purchased it. At that moment I decided to do this project. The frame was 150 years old and I bought for 11 euros and my exhibition started with that purchase. Later, I started to buy other frames. And, while I was preparing my artworks, I thought about how people are like empty frames.

Most important thing you learned from your teacher.

My teacher, Prof. Dr. Fevzi Günüç was a professional and good artist. I love him so much. Unfortunately he died seven years ago. In old times my teacher said these rules:

"If a person wants to start Islamic calligraphy, firstly she/he should decide what to do in the future [set a goal]. Secondly she/he should love this art so much. Thirdly she/he should study a lot. But the most important thing is “a pure intention.”

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Your advice for students who are interested in studying traditional arts.

I would only repeat my teacher’s advice. His words [that I shared with you] are enough for me to say everything about the education process [of learning traditional art].  

For information on Efe’s work, please visit his website: and

Instagram page: @hattatmustafacemilefe

Pictures from the “Lucky Frames” exhibition (pdf)

Images courtesy of the artist