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Major Islamic art exhibition builds understanding between Western and Islamic cultures
Detail from Calligraphic Scroll. Ink, watercolor and gold on paper. Syria or India, 14th - 15th century, 800 x 36.6 cm. The al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN.- An exhibition offering comprehensive access to the arts of Islamic culture will open at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on November 2, 2012. Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture brings to life the story of art created in the societies fostered by Islam, including objects from the seventh century to present day. Beauty and Belief features more than 250 objects—including calligraphy, ceramics, paintings, woodcarvings and textiles—that will not only address what defines Islamic art, but will also offer an overview of Islamic culture throughout history. Beauty and Belief will be on view November 2, 2012, through January 13, 2013, in the Allen Whitehill Clowes Special Exhibition Gallery.

“I hope that as visitors interact with the displays and discover different ways of seeing, they will leave with a new understanding of Islamic culture,” said Dr. Sabiha Al Khemir, exhibition project director, guest curator at the IMA and senior advisor for Islamic Art to the Dallas Museum of Art. “Through experiencing the visual language of Islamic culture, sight is transformed into insight.”

The exhibition raises questions of cultural significance for each object, challenging assumptions on all sides and offering a space for dialogue. For example, it will address the assumption held by Muslims and non-Muslims alike that the art of Islam is devoid of any figurative representation. The exhibition shows how the figurative—though not permitted in the Mosque—is, in fact, present in Islamic culture through its different media and across centuries. It also shows that this form of art is shaped by Islamic cultural beliefs. The show also highlights the significance and importance of word in Islamic art and culture and offers a stunning array of the ever-present art of pattern.

“The Indianapolis Museum of Art is pleased to host Beauty and Belief, which will offer visitors a rare opportunity to see the finest examples of Islamic art while exploring Islamic culture,” said June McCormack, chair of the IMA’s Board of Governors.

Pieces in the exhibition would have been used and cherished in the homes of royalty as well as those created for modest levels of society. The exhibition draws heavily from collections across the United States as well as many other countries such as Kuwait, Great Britain, France, Denmark, Morocco and Italy. Some of the artworks will be seen for the first time in the United States, and the exhibition will be the first time this range of objects can be seen in one place.

Among many noteworthy pieces are:

• A 14th-15th century calligraphic scroll that stretches more than 26 feet and is inscribed mainly in Arabic and decorated with ink, watercolor and gold. A detail in the scroll reveals a calligraphic inscription written in an unbroken line: “God the creator of everything.” (from The al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait);

• Decorated with an arrangement of animals surrounding an elephant, the 13th century Bowl with Animals from Iran demonstrates the figurative imagery present in Islamic art objects used in daily life (IMA collection);

• Unique manuscripts from the National Library in Morocco; and

• A Syrian glass flask in excellent condition dating between seventh and ninth centuries features a bottle mounted on a stylized horse-like figure. The vessel was likely used to hold fragrant oil and colored in translucent blue and green (The David Collection, Copenhagen).

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