Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the Afghan letters is the incorporation of artwork. Drawing on a centuries-long tradition of manuscript illumination and floral painting, Radio Azadi listeners adapt these traditional art forms to their correspondence. Many of the letters also feature elaborate calligraphy and poetry. Calligraphic art has been a dominant visual art form in the Islamic world and is appreciated by the literate and illiterate alike. Poetry, too, has long flourished as a cultural tradition and passion in Afghanistan, and Radio Azadi receives many letters in verse.

The Tradition of Scrolls

Today, as in the past, scrolls are used to present particularly important and beautiful texts. This seventeenth century scroll presents the genealogy of the Timurids who ruled in parts of Afghanistan between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries, and in Indian until the mid-nineteenth century. The borders are illuminated in the traditional manner with floral motifs and drawings of birds.

Name: Unknown
Location: Unknown
Language: Dari

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The Tradition of Accordion Books

Another traditional manner of presenting important texts is the accordion book. Displayed is a nineteenth century accordion book containing Persian poetry, lavishly illuminated with delicate floral designs. The intricate design on a blue background and the use of the Nasta `liq form of the Arabic script are aspects of calligraphic art and illumination dating back hundreds of years in Afghanistan and neighboring countries. This contemporary accordion letter was written by a single scribe for several individuals who are requesting that Radio Azadi play certain songs.

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A Love Poem

The three verses on this beautifully written and illuminated document praise a beloved woman. The text in the central panel is written in Nasta`liq, a celebrated style of Persian calligraphy, and the border is decorated with gold flowers. The tradition of rich ornamentation and floral decoration continue to have an important presence in Afghan writing to this day.

Mir 'Ali al-Katib, calligrapher. Three bayts (verses) to a loved one. Calligraphic fragment, ca. 1500–1550. African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (003.00.00)

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Letter with Floral Illustrations

Name: Unknown
Country: Afghanistan
Province: Unknown
District: Unknown
Language: Dari

Radio Azadi Collection, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (049.00.00)

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Poem Praising Vision

This poem was executed in the seventeenth century by calligrapher/scribe Ma`sud al-Tabib, who resided in Balkh (now Mazar-i Sharif), Afghanistan. The poem, which praises vision as the strongest of the human senses, is similar to the verses that typically appear in the contemporary letters sent to Radio Azadi.

Ma'sud al-Tabib, calligrapher. Quatrain praising vision. Calligraphic fragment, early seventeenth century. African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (004.00.00)

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Advice Regarding Health Care

Name: Unknown
Country: Afghanistan
Province: Unknown
District: Unknown
Language: Dari

Radio Azadi Collection, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (048.00.00)

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An Old Tradition of Ornamentation

This image taken by a photographer who accompanied British-Indian forces during the Second Afghan War is among the earliest photograph of life in Afghanistan. A close examination of the walls of the courtyard shows an intricate floral design created from ceramic tiles, following an old tradition of ornamentation.

Benjamin Simpson, photographer. Court Yard from Afghanistan photo album, 1879. African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (026.00.00)

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