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CCDI Junior Fellow Spotlight: Ghazal Ghazi

(The following is a repost by Olivia Dorsey, an innovation specialist on the LC Labs team.  The post originally appeared as the fifth in a series that features the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI) Junior Fellows from the Library’s 2022 Junior Fellows program. These posts highlight each fellow and the projects they developed. CCDI funded six interns in this year’s virtual 10-week program. CCDI is part of the Library’s Mellon-funded Of the People: Widening the Path initiative. This four-year program provides grants to individuals, organizations and institutions to create projects using the Library’s digital collections and that center one or more of the following groups: Black, Indigenous, Hispanic or Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color. Learn more about CCDI here.)

This summer, CCDI’s Junior Fellows used a range of Library collection materials and multimedia to develop narratives and explore concepts relating to the experiences of Persians, Japanese Americans, African Americans, and Mexican Americans. With the support of Library staff, each Fellow visualized their research in a Story Map, which was published by the Library.

In this interview post, Ghazal Ghazi, a 2022 CCDI Jr Fellow, shares her research interests, her favorite moments from her internship, and the inspiration behind her project, “Unraveling ‘Ishq: Love in the Poetry, Miniature Painting, and Calligraphy of the Persianate World.”

Tell us a little bit about your background. What led you to apply for a Library of Congress Junior Fellows internship?

A photo of Ghazal Ghazi, a 2022 CCDI Jr Fellow.

Ghazal Ghazi was a 2022 CCDI Jr Fellow. [Photo by Hannah Crickman]

I was born in Tehran, Iran, and immigrated to the United States when I was six years old. I grew up moving around a lot within the United States, and I also lived abroad in Kuwait as a child, and later in Chile as an adult. Apart from pursuing librarianship, I am also a poet and a multidisciplinary visual artist, working primarily in painting and ceramics. I was completing my Master’s in Library and Information Science when I heard that applications were open for the Junior Fellows program. I knew about the program and some of the work that past Junior Fellows had done, so I had been waiting for a chance to apply. Looking through the different project descriptions, CCDI’s immediately stood out to me, and I’m so incredibly grateful that I was hired for this position.

What project did you work on this summer?

This summer, I worked on a Story Map titled “Unraveling ‘Ishq: Love in the Poetry, Miniature Painting, and Calligraphy of the Persianate World.” My project highlights the intersections of poetry, calligraphy, and miniature painting as vessels for the centuries-long multifaceted exploration of passionate love (‘ishq), in both its earthly and sacred manifestations. Spotlighting archives from the Persian Language Rare Materials collection at the Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED), this project locates the transregional nature of Persian culture throughout the expanse of Central, South, and West Asia, using critical analyses to both push beyond modern nationalist conceptions of identity while also disarming Orientalist approaches to the literature. Starting from the medieval era, the Story Map charts how poets and artists unravel the threads of earthly and divine love as they dialogue across time and space, mapping this restless devotion and tenderness through the vernacular of their intersecting and overlapping artistic disciplines.

What inspired this project? How did you come up with the idea?

Persian poetry has been a part of my life since I was a child. Growing up in the diaspora, retaining and building upon my knowledge of Persian was often a struggle for me since we usually lived in areas where there wasn’t a large Persian-speaking community. It was my own initiative and passion that kept me connected to Persian, and reading the texts of modern Persian poets was one way that I nourished this connection. Lately I’ve been focusing on classical poetry in the original Persian, venturing into texts by Hafez and Rumi, as well as the works of medieval female poets like Jahan Malek Khatun.

For this project, I wanted to revel in beauty – the tenderness of the poetry, the obsessive details of the miniature paintings, the rhythm and harmony of the calligraphy. Persian poetics is not without its contentions, however, and addressing the harm caused by European Orientalists as well as modern nationalist discourses is also something I acknowledge in my project. For centuries, Persian was widely spoken in the expanse of land that stretched from the Balkans to the Bengals. I intentionally wanted to give a transregional focus to the project rather than a strictly Iran-centric approach to Persian cultural production. Even though I dive into these sites of contention, I want to primarily celebrate the beauty that artists and writers created. To this end, I tried to explore the artists on their own terms, centering the cultural, social, and spiritual contexts that gave birth to them.

What was your experience like in terms of exploring the Library’s materials? What is the most interesting item or collection you found?

While initially I had some hesitancy about working remotely on this project, I found that I was able to fully engage with the Library’s collections. The Persian Language Rare Materials collection has over 300 digitized items that I was able to dig through at my own pace, and the high-resolution of the digital images meant that I could zoom in and see many details on the miniature paintings that I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise since these paintings are so incredibly small in real life. As a student of the Persian nasta’liq calligraphic tradition, the Library’s Selections of Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Calligraphy is a particularly attractive collection featuring examples from every major calligraphic script in the Islamic tradition. I was able to ask questions and reach out to librarians at the Library of Congress, who were all extremely helpful, supportive, and resourceful in answering my questions.

My favorite painting in the collection is the “The Fainting of Laylah and Majnun” which is a miniature painting from 12th century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi’s Khamsah (Quintet). It is a retelling of a famous Arabian love story based on 7th century Bedouin poet, Qays ibn al-Mulawwah, and his love for Laylah bint Mahdi. It is an incredibly passionate and dramatic scene, with the two lovers fainting upon seeing each other for the first time after a long separation, while an old man in the middle tries to revive them and animal protectors of Majnun ward off intruders. In Nizami’s retelling, the story takes on mystical Sufi connotations of the ideal all-consuming love for the divine Beloved. This story represents the nuance, complexity, and multiplicity of meaning found in Persian poetics, as well as the transregional flow of stories, ideas, art, and knowledge. This same Khamsah was retold over a century later further east by the Indo-Persian poet Amir Khusraw. Going through the archives, I witnessed these stories travelling across lands, reflecting the larger dialogue that artists and poets have with each other across time and space.

What was one of your favorite moments from your experience as a Junior Fellow this summer?

There have been so many wonderful moments from this summer. Getting a chance to visit the Library of Congress for the CCDI Summer Fuse Event was a highlight for me. During the trip, I met the CCDI grantees, was able to be in conversation with the CCDI advisory board, and met Dr. Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress. I also got to meet with Hirad Dinavari, Reference Librarian of the Iranian World at the African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED) who has been a librarian hero of mine since his curation of the seminal 2014 exhibit at the Library of Congress, A Thousand Years of the Persian Book. I was able to see a few of the original manuscripts that I had been studying virtually all summer – including Hafez and Rumi manuscripts, as well as the richly detailed miniature paintings in the Kitab-i Saḥr-i ḥalal, which was a very moving experience.

Most of all, I am grateful for the fact that all summer long I felt a consistent sense of excitement for anything and everything CCDI-related. I always looked forward to the weekly conversations with my project mentor, CCDI staff, and other CCDI Junior Fellows, for the insightful conversations and sense of community that our conversations provided.

For more information on Ghazal’s project, check out her Display Day project video here.

Interested in learning more about the CCDI Junior Fellows’ work? Visit the Library’s Story Maps page to view Story Maps created by this year’s Fellows and Library staff. To hear the Junior Fellows share about their projects in their own words, visit the 2022 Junior Fellow Display Day page.

Apply for a 2023 Junior Fellows Summer Internship

You can also work with CCDI as a Junior Fellow!

The Junior Fellows Program is an annual summer internship program for currently enrolled or recently graduated undergraduate or graduate students. Fellows have the opportunity to explore the Library of Congress’ digital and analog collections, while working directly with Library staff across the institution in a variety of fields, including: information technology, reference, preservation, and more.

Subscribe to the Of the People blog to be notified about the open application period for the 2023 Junior Fellows Summer Internship program. Stay tuned for more details on 2023 CCDI Junior Fellow activities!

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