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Martin Gropius Bau Offers a Contemporary Look at Islamic Visual Expression
Nalini Malani, "Tales of Good and Evil", 2008. Digital print on handmade paper. © Courtesy Galerie LeLong, Paris.

BERLIN.- The exhibition shows selected precious objects of classical Islamic art as well as significant works by 20th-century and contemporary artists, most of whom have an Islamic background. The 250-odd works on display offer a contemporary look at Islamic forms of visual expression. Laid out on an associative basis into 18 “theme rooms”, the exhibition provides a venue for encounters between East and West, classical and contemporary artworks, Islam and Modernism.

Over 50 contemporary artists from such places as Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, Damascus, Teheran, Jerusalem, Paris, London and New York will be taking part in the exhibition. Their work will be displayed alongside classical works of Persian, Indian, Arab and Ottoman art. The current international art scene will be represented by such figures as Walid Raad, Parastou Forouhar, Mona Hatoum, Susan Hefuna, Rebecca Horn, Ali Kaaf, Wolfgang Laib, Timo Nasseri, and Raqib Shaw. Important national and international libraries and museums – such as the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, the British Museum and British Library in London, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, or the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon and the Museum of Islamic Art SMB – have made precious objects of Islamic art available as loans. The exhibition covers the three classical fields of "Islamic art: Calligraphy, Ornament and Miniatures", whose unique and manifold forms will offer visitors a fascinating aesthetic experience. The word “taswir” in Arabic, Persian and Ottoman Turkish means roughly “portrayal, likeness, drawing, photograph”. Despite widespread popular misconceptions, there can be no question of a ban on or absence of images in Islamic tradition. The attitude to pictorial portrayals is ambivalent and has varied throughout history. The exhibition invites visitors to reconsider the practice of keeping “Orient” and “Occident” in watertight compartments while subjecting the roots of the traditional European view of the “West” to critical scrutiny.

Layout of the exhibition
The principle of assembling the images on the basis of poetic association is related to that used in the Mnemosyne Atlas of the Hamburg art historian Aby Warburg (1866 – 1929). Traditional Persian, Arabian and Ottoman imagery is shown against the background of modern and contemporary artistic trends in the fields of graphics, drawing, painting, photography, video art, installation, sound and sculpture. Thus the project "Taswir – Pictorial Mappings of Islam and Modernity" is itself a collage of images that has the effect of a carpet or a poetic text. The curators – A. S. Bruckstein Çoruh (Berlin) and Hendrik Budde (Berlin) – create a vivid kaleidoscope of visual and acoustic references and different forms of artistic expression divided into the three fields of Calligraphy, Ornament and Miniatures.

Calligraphy: The exhibition presents Islamic forms of writing primarily from a visual point of view and addresses the phenomena of writing, notation and movement. The emphasis is on the visual and performative aspects of writing as an art form in its own right. We will be showing classical exhibits of Koran manuscripts of the most diverse origins as well as Persian and Ottoman calligraphic sheets and sketch books dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries, which the exhibition contrasts with forms of artistic expression characteristic of European Modernism and contemporary artists from East and West, such as Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Maliheh Afnan, Etel Adnan, Wolfgang Laib, William Forsythe, Song Dong and Rebecca Horn.

Ornament: This section examines the basic geometrical figurations of ornamentation in architecture, interior decoration, and arts and crafts. Architectural drawings and textile patterns are displayed that reveal the cosmic, mathematical formal principle of the ornamental not only as a basic principle of architecture, but also as an ordering principle for society and state. The works of a number of critical contemporary artists, such as Mona Hatoum, Susan Hefuna, Parastou Forouhar and Hale Tenger illuminate the ambivalence of hierarchy and order, perfection and power, symmetry and asymmetry, impotence and violence.

Imageries in miniatures and painting: The exhibition looks at the figurative imagery of Persian, Indian and Ottoman miniature painting in close association with poetry and literature, especially the great Persian epics about such famous pairs of lovers as “Yusuf and Zulaykha”, “Layla and Majnun” or “Khusraw and Shirin”. At the same time the imagery of the traditional “Miraculous Journey of the Prophet” and of Mogul painting indicates a migration of narrative forms that reveal biblical, Persian, Arabian and European influences, thus demonstrating the extreme openness of Islamic imagery.

Another section is devoted to the pictorial representation of Muhammad in Ottoman, Persian and Mogul book illustration in the light of contemporary works on the problem of the representability of the human face.

Martin Gropius Bau | Contemporary Art | Islamic Art | A. S. Bruckstein Çoruh | Hendrik Budde |

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