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Writers, chefs and musicians draw inspiration from Islamic art
Bowl and cover selected by Laurent Khellout, Iran, 10th century, diameter, 19 cm, collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.

THE HAGUE.- This autumn Gemeentemuseum Den Haag showcases the stunning ornamental delights of Islamic art in a new exhibition entitled Splendour and Bliss – Arts of the Islamic World. Literature and the Arabic script are important in the world of Islam, and so too are music, and eating and drinking together. The museum has therefore challenged eighteen writers, chefs and musicians to create something inspired by objects in the exhibition. The result is a set of stories, poems, recipes and music that wil heighten the senses.

Koran texts, prose and poetry, and calligraphy are all prominent features of Islamic art. Six writers with their roots in the countries of origin in the objects on display were therefore asked to write a short story or poem. They include established names like Kader Abdolah and Rodaan Al Galidi, and emerging new talents like seventeen-year-old Sumai Yahya of Syria, who recently won the Young Campert Prize.

How the writers fulfilled the commission was entirely up to them. Rashid Novaire wrote a short story about a king and a dancer inspired by two bowls from 10th-century Iran and Iraq. Eighteen-year-old Hizir Cengiz has written a personal tale based on a sixteenth-century Turkish rug, and Naema Tahir was inspired by three eighteenth-century glass bottles manufactured in Western Europe and decorated with gold and enamel in India.

The six chefs chose a bowl or dish from the Islamic art collection and devised a Syrian, Algerian, Moroccan, Turkish or Iranian recipe to go with it. Well-known TV chef Nadia Zerouali was inspired by an Iranian bowl with a pomegranate motif, and Laurent Khellout, who has written a book of Nomadic recipes, produced a table full of mezze. Syrian chef Zina Abboud, who recently launched her book of Syrian recipes this month, took a Syrian bowl from circa 1200 as her inspiration. Eighteen-year-old Kevin Patti, who is studying to be a chef at ROC Mondriaan college in The Hague, has also contributed a recipe.

Besides ceramics, glass, metal, rugs and wooden doors, the Islamic art collection also includes a number of extraordinary musical instruments. To reflect the prominent role of music in Islamic culture and to give visitors an impression of the sound of a kamancheh or sitar, the museum has invited six musicians to play the instruments. They all live in the Netherlands, but know the instruments from the country of their birth. The musicians include Syrian-Palestinian oud (a lute-like instrument) player Amer Shanat, and young Arash Aria, who plays one of the most ancient and revered Persian string instruments, the tar.

The literary texts, recipes and personal accounts of the contributors will be included in the exhibition catalogue, and will play an important role in the activities offered in association with the exhibition. All the contributors will be photographed by talented photographer Mounir Raji.

‘It’s really inspiring to see these people’s personal and artistic responses to our magnificent collection’, says museum director Benno Tempel. ‘They reveal it to be a collection full of bliss and show what fabulous stories lay hidden in the artworks. This highlights a side of Muslim culture that is rarely considered in the public debate: the exuberance and the positive message of Islamic art.’

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