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The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston celebrates 10 years of the Art of the Islamic Worlds initiative
Visitors in Arts of Islamic Lands: Selections from The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait. Photo by Cameron Bertuzzi.

HOUSTON, TX.- The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has designated 2017–18 for commemorative exhibitions and events to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Art of the Islamic Worlds initiative. Since the program’s founding in 2007, a decade of exhibitions, acquisitions, scholarly research, and international collaboration has brought the achievements of Islamic artistic traditions to U.S. audiences. Over 300 works spanning 1,300 years and the breadth of Islamic territories—from present-day India, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iran to Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Spain—are now on continuous view, making the MFAH among the largest displays of art from the Islamic worlds in the U.S.

“Ten years ago, this Museum made a commitment to assure that the art and culture of historic Islamic lands would have a permanent place among collections that span 5,000 years of human creativity,” said Gary Tinterow, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. “Since then, through the generous support of patrons here in Houston and abroad, and through vibrant relationships with colleagues, collectors, and institutions throughout the Muslim world, hundreds of thousands of visitors have been able to experience these rich artistic traditions, which are among the world’s most enduring.”

Aimée Froom, curator of the Art of the Islamic Worlds since 2014, commented, “Since establishing this department in 2007, the Museum has developed a focused collection with an emphasis on quality and rarity. Each year, we have brought to Houston collaborations, exhibitions, and programs illuminating key themes of Islamic art—whether the written word, gift-giving, or mystical traditions. The anniversary year will commemorate the collaborative spirit that has characterized the Art of the Islamic Worlds initiative, and draws from the dynamic, diverse communities of Houston, as well as the participation of international collectors and scholars.”

In November 2007, under then-director Peter C. Marzio, the MFAH launched an initiative to research, collect, and present the art of Islamic lands, from antiquity to the present. At the time, the collection numbered 72 objects. Most had entered the collection in the 1930s as gifts from Miss Annette Finnigan, a Houstonian and philanthropist whose experience as a student at Wellesley College in the 1890s stirred her future activism in the city for women’s suffrage and public education. Milestones achieved since the inception of the Art of the Islamic Worlds initiative have included:

• The founding of a permanent curatorial department for the Art of the Islamic Worlds and its supporting patron group, whose members are drawn from the diverse philanthropic communities of Houston.

• More than $8 million raised in support; 64 objects and over 275 scholarly volumes acquired; nine exhibitions presented; five books and catalogues published; and more than 68 lectures and related programs held.

• A historic agreement in 2012 between MFAH director Gary Tinterow and Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah and Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, co-owners of The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait, providing for long-term loan of over 240 objects from one of the largest and most important collections of Islamic art in the world.

• The presentation of two exhibitions of masterworks from The al-Sabah collection, from manuscripts, jewelry, metalwork, and ceramics to carpets, architectural fragments, and scientific instruments (2013 and 2015).

• The opening, in 2015, of two new galleries designated for the permanent collection, under the direction of Art of the Islamic Worlds curator Aimée Froom. Ongoing presentations feature objects gifted by and on loan from collectors and patrons from around the world.

10th Anniversary Program: Exhibitions and Events Details of the anniversary program to celebrate one decade of the Art of the Islamic Worlds initiative will be announced later this year. Plans currently under way include a slate of exhibitions, performances, gallery talks, lectures, and other public presentations.

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