Voice of the Object
In Islamic culture, inscriptions on objects speak of a Muslim way of life and Muslim ideals. Words speaking Qur’anic verses, sayings of the Prophet, aphorisms, proverbs, and poetry are written in beautiful prose. They can appear in the most unlikely places- pen boxes, leaves, and horseshoes, for example. Some objects address us in the first person and invite us into a direct dialogue with a voice across time. These often share blessings, good wishes, and timeless wisdom.
This exhibition has objects made of fine materials that show high technical ability, as well as modest objects that would have been found in everyday homes and did not have a religious function. Art of the Islamic world is integrated with the fabric of everyday life through functional objects that were associated with daily necessities such as light, water, food, and perfume. Figurative imagery often decorates these joyful objects that celebrate everyday life. These forms acted as subtle reminders and references to people’s beliefs and relationship with life. Because God loves beauty, the act of transforming raw materials into something beautiful was an act of devotion whether simple or monumental.
Sight to Insight
As viewers take a closer look at objects, aspects that are often not apparent at first sight are revealed. The more we look the more we see. As you look closely, you can unveil layers of meaning that transforms sight into insight. Our way of looking also determines what we see. Seeing the beauty of art from Islamic culture is enhanced by looking from within its belief system. In doing so, objects are appreciated for their material excellence as well as their conceptual beauty with the spirit.
The oneness of God (Tawhid)
The advent of Islam was marked by a strong drive for monotheism: Tawhid, the Oneness of God. This is the conviction that God is the only Eternal Being that encompasses everything. Everything comes from and goes back to Him, including beauty. Islam places God as the central reference point; consequently, the concept of the Divine in Islam shapes the way of being and thinking in Islamic culture. The Divine is beyond any material representation and so Islamic artistic expression constantly tries to allude to the unbounded majesty of Divine beauty. He has no beginning and no end.
Interconnectedness of all things
Many objects within this exhibition are parts of a larger whole. Nothing is complete on its own- it is always being a part of something else, connected to a bigger picture. This way of seeing reflects the Islamic way of being that positions the Creator at the center of the universe. Science and geometry are connected to beauty and art, which are derived from the wonders of Creation. Artistic styles travel, and as they do so, objects reflect a dialogue between people across time, place, and across religions. Many of these objects traverse perceived boundaries of cultures and fields of study, but in reality, these are all interconnected through the unity of humanity.
There are many endless repetitions of patterns that can extend into infinity. Praise of God by pattern is rhythmic and continuous and reflects the structure of tasbeeh (chanting the praises of God). Both shape and void, silence and sound are part of construction of this endless continuation. Repetition is also linked to dhikr (the remembrance of God), which is a way to get closer to the Divine. Patterns, visual and aural, are a rhythmical form of art, a universal prayer. The concept of time in Islam and its direct connection to cyclical pattern informs the choice of pattern and geometry as the basis of the Culture’s expression of beauty. This is linked to time and timelessness, in which there is a continuum of motion that seems to be united with no beginning and no end.
Diversity of Islam
Just as the Ummah, or Muslim community, is unified not by nationality but by faith and culture, so we see the objects of this exhibition reflecting a coherent visual language that reaches beyond the boundaries of geography and time. The differences in origin and styles ranging from Spain, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, East Asia, and to Indonesia all contribute to the arts of Islamic culture. Despite the diversity of the Islamic world, certain artistic patterns seem to universally reverberate throughout the centuries of Islamic culture.
A key principle in Islamic Culture is the belief in al-Dhahir and al-Batin (The Visible and the Invisible). Both of these are part of the whole. Some inscriptions, passages, or meanings add a metaphysical dimension to the objects even though they are seemingly hidden on the underside or inside of objects. However, underlying meanings are only hidden from man, not God. As with all truth, only those who seek and study and ponder become privy to the hidden mysteries of God’s knowledge.
In Islamic culture, learning is regarded as an ethical endeavor. The Prophet Muhammed said, “Seek learning, even as far as China.” Many stories from Islamic culture weave lessons and morals throughout the narratives. Everything from fables, historical tales, and scientific documents were imbued with both spiritual cautions and beautifully lavished illustrations that made learning more enjoyable.