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Islamic Art – What Is It?

In the aftermath of 9/11 America the culture of post-September 11 America has been a battlefield for conflicting ideas in the wake of 9/11, and New York City is precariously situated as the epicenter of this conflict, Islamic art is in the spotlight once more. But this time, it’s not the tangled world of definition-defying contemporary art that is claimed to be an unfathomable glimpse into the souls of Muslims and their followers, but Islamic artwork in its historical sense. It is the design and the art of architecture which developed over the course of centuries of dynastic control across West, Central, and South Asia, across the Mediterranean and then down to North as well as Sub-Saharan Africa (although not necessarily in the same order). The period of time that is usually covered under the umbrella of “Islamic art” starts in the 7th century, with the first formalization of Muslim societies under the successors of Prophet Mohammad and concludes with the fall of the Ottoman Empire amidst its demise in the First World War. While it is often studied in connection with the fall and rise of Islamic rule across a wide geographic area, a precise concept for “Islamic art” is not clear even among scholars of the present.

It is in this setting in this context that The Metropolitan Museum of Art has opened and changed the name of its galleries to showcase Islamic art with the name: Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia. It was shut down shortly before the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 (although it appears that it was just a coincidence) The Met has invested eight years , and forty million dollars in rehabilitating and expanding the galleries. In this time, the department that houses the museum’s collection of Islamic art is believed to have conducted research, made repairs to several works as well as rethought the curatorial perspective that 1,200 of its 12,000 works are exhibited in the open to all. As a result, the department believes that it’s responding to an influx of research that is beginning to think about Islamic art the past.

The highlights of this collection have been divided into 15 galleries that correspond, partly, to the present current geography, with a focus on specific regions to which Islam was introduced under the Caliphates. But this doesn’t necessarily change the way that Islamic art is examined in Western academia , despite the Met’s assertion the new gallery are examining the current debates surrounding the topic. Each gallery displays artworks or objects that bear the hallmarks of of the most renowned designs and methods that developed from the aesthetics of Islamic art influenced certain areas over the course of 13 centuries. For instance, in the gallery that exhibits Ottoman art of the Ottoman period (1299-1923) ceramics as well as textiles and calligraphic work are a visual record of the growth and evolution of designs as they influenced local culture. Some, like the galleries of Mamluk Egypt or Syria (1250-1517) the galleries concentrate on a particular object or material such as the gilded and enameled glass lamps utilized to create striking effects in interiors, in a strange way, is more important than objects that could be a sign of more significant achievements in the history of aesthetics like the development of architecture in an urban environment, where exteriors became part of the landscape of culture.

The galleries are arranged slightly chronologically (periods and regions are likely to be overlapping due to changing of styles, techniques and even craftsmen amidst different periods of dynasties) Visitors have an option to access the permanent exhibit through a variety of ways which include the museum’s section that focuses on the 19th century European painting. The concept is that every room is comprised to offer a range of Islamic art’s fundamental characteristics. The forms are generally considered to include geometric designs, calligraphy and highly stylized representations of fauna and flora. Architecture and the distinction of secular and sacred space by the design and decoration of structures is also important, because structures are often integrated and were influenced by the visual energy of the writing word, the geometric abstract and floral patterns. In the galleries that exhibit Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia the specifics are showcased under a broad classification in where art is frequently combined with visual culture, and there is a lack of distinction between artifacts and functional objects. of art, resulting in the enigma of what exactly is Islamic art?

If we adhere to the conventional logic of art history, where aesthetics can be defined by the visual elements that emerged within the geographical or social boundaries of a specific cultural context at the time first stage of the process of defining Islamic art is to determine how the aesthetic was created in the first initial place. What are the essential elements in Islamic art? What does it mean? What are the reasons behind this? any other visual artifact is it that Islamic art employ representation? What are the intentions of this representation and what could it be directed towards the audience? The next set of issues could explore the evolution of this aesthetic throughout space and time as a method of communication and/or expression. What was the way Islamic art utilized? What impact on society did it have after it was beginning to gain traction? How did it evolve in time? Who was accountable for these changes and how?

A large part of the current debate on what qualifies into the category of Islamic art is based on the fact that a lot of these questions are to ponder by the very institutions which are the guardians of this information. The world of art is becoming more global with the opening of new art centers in countries such as Hong Kong and Dubai redirecting the attention on the art market, an emphasis is being put on contemporary art beyond the traditional borders that are part of the West. In the end, this means an expansion and revision of the previous research, since the growth in Western the study of art has been influenced by the need for information that arises when art is considered an object of trade. This has everything to do with the policies of the government and foreign policy, to be precise. Many critical comments have been made during the last decade about the motives, effects and packaging of this interest, revealing what it actually is. One of the most significant results from this shift in debate is that the very people being meticulously studied are starting to speak up by voicing their opinions in the redefining of scholarship. This has proved to be detrimental to the Euro-American tradition of art history as prevalent notions are examined.

In an international conference held in Amsterdam in the spring of this year, historians, curators as well as art historians were offered the opportunity to think about and discuss the benefits of the exhibition of Islamic Art in the Netherlands to help educate the Dutch populace about Islam and its role in the contemporary world. The purpose of “Presenting the ‘Islamic’ Arts in a Modern Context,” which was held through Messis Foundation Messis Foundation, was to discuss ways that galleries and museums can help in bringing “art of Islamic culture” to the contemporary audience. Since the beginning this conference that featured lectures given by the curators of museums like the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the focus of discussion was beginning to establish a clear concept for Islamic art. Since this was a source that caused a lot of disagreement between experts from different areas of the field that ranged from the non-profit sector of culture to the most prestigious international institutions, it revealed the deep rift that exists between the current methods of representation of culture and art, and the various outdated approaches of art historical research. One of the main themes at the event was that of having to research and explain the fundamentals of Islamic art.

Utilizing the Met’s new galleries as a reference point and a starting point to comprehend Islamic art as an acceptable aesthetic within the historical context using these lenses of institutionalization? The way that objects and works of art are displayed will help us understand the perspective that the Met’s Islamic art division has designed this new installation.

A good example is the precursor of that Safavid (1501-1722) design by that it is the Iranian city Isfahan is famous is illustrated by a striking 14th century mihrab that was found in The Madrasa Imami. It is decorated with white and blue polychrome glaze tiles, the intricate arabesques and evocative muhaqqaq kufic and the thuluth scripts serve as focal points for direction. Because every square inch of the mihrab is decorated with intricate designs geometric patterns complement the flowing curvatures and lines of Quranic inscriptions and passages taken from hadith (the Prophet’s statements). The harmonious arrangement offers an excellent illustration of the way Islamic art is intended to create an awe-inspiring feeling in both believers and non-believers by visually expressing the overwhelming awe of nature as evidence of the magnificence of God. The use of vegetation could be seen as a reference to the promise of paradise , which is outlined in the inscription that is placed around the inner semicircle of the niche. The Met’s galleries are where the mihrab is featured in the center of the permanent exhibit that is stylistically distinct to the artwork created during the period in Moorish Spain (711-1492) as well as in the Ottoman Empire that are exhibited in the adjoining rooms. The mihrab is distinct in its mood, color in design, style, and form in comparison to it’s counterparts, the Iznik ceramics and Moroccan courtyard , which are just a few feet away. It is a compositional mess, but the outer border and central arch are in close conversation with the works of the art of the book as well as weaving which are also on display nearby.

If this visual continuity is apparent in the department’s art as well as objects, and readily observed by the eye it’s because it is the way it was observed throughout history in the way that forms were taken and refined by successive artisans and artists. Though beautifully presented all over, where the Met falls short is in the explanation of these works , and Islamic art generally, because the galleries are lacking any explanation of what each visual component is in relation to the framework of the aesthetic and the spirituality which influenced it.

For the discerning observer, this may be seen in intricate patterns that emphasise symmetry the cyclical character of the universe, as well as the beginnings of the universe in an axis of geometric forms that equidistant lines be derived and to where they will return. The intricate repetition of these forms which we see as an essential characteristic of Islamic art comes from a sophisticated use of math. When they expand exponentially from a single source to stunning designs, the idea of infinity has spiritual overtones. The use of calligraphy and it’s gradual conversion of texts into picture-like, often achieves a state of abstraction that dispenses with representation completely, referring to things that are intangible like the transcendental. While this type of symbolism was initially utilized in a context of religion but the reach of the aesthetic was soon extended to the visual arts and everyday objects. This did not necessarily alter the original meaning of the word when carried out in accordance with its formal and symbolic qualities.

When we talk about that Islamic Golden Age (750-1258) during which philosophy, science and poetry interacted and flourished during the spread of Islam It is also possible to examine Islamic architecture and art as concrete evidence of the contributions. The examples displayed in the galleries of the Met show the amazing beauty in Islamic arts, without the details, the viewer is left to conclude that it was merely decorative. In its descriptions of the works and introductions to the periods that the department focuses on, it tends to concentrate on specific techniques, such as the advancements created in the field of glazing ceramics and enameling glassware as well as the particular material employed to make objects. While artists and workshops can be sometimes identified but there is a lack of a greater appreciation of their artistic merit and function they could have played in developing the aesthetic.

A common method of highlighting artworks is to highlight the patronage for which they were made. This is emphasized by instances that were ordered as direct declarations of ruling dynastic power, like”Tughra of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent “Tughra of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent” (1555-60), that was crafted by an artist trained by a person belonging to the Ottoman bureaucracy, and served as a type of authentic letterhead to signify documents. Thus, even though the structure of galleries according to the dynasties and regions might have significance for locating the works in a contextual context of the past, the primary concept of this new installation is the display of Islamic art as a symbol of power, since patronage is more important than artistic creativity regardless of the existence of documents that show the huge quantity of freedom and improvisation the work that craftsmen and artists were permitted to create. This is why the artistic beauty in Islamic artwork and the sophisticated efforts at understanding the world by using abstraction is completely ruined. This is what separates it from other art and times that are regarded as a major breakthrough within the wider perspective of global cultural trends. In spite of the lengthy time Islamic art spans as continuous process that paralleled and sometimes intersected with international counterparts, the acclaim is typically reserved to European artists and institutions. Even though Islamic art was acknowledged and used by a number of prominent European modernists from the beginning of the 20th century, this reductionist view of the field has endured for many centuries.

The Met’s gallery of Orientalist painting that serves as the physical connection between the 19th century European painting and Islamic art works is in this respect. A docent at the preview for the new galleries described the location of these Orientalist paintings as “a amazing juxtaposition.” Although the paintings of Gerome (1824-1904) as well as his contemporary artists depict the idea as the “exotic different” from the Western perspective however, the museum views them as important historical documents. In reality, the roots of the department’s reverse reading of Islamic art can be seen in paintings made in the hands of European artists who were working for several centuries earlier.

Some of the earliest instances of Islamic art that made it to Europe began to appear from the eleventh century. It was used as decoration for Romanesque cathedrals in Italy the pottery was part of a vast list of highly sought-after “goods” which were traded throughout an extensive trade network which linked Islamic Dynasties of in the Mediterranean and their European counterparts. Since these dynasties were on the same (if not more) with respect to their political status as well as their cultural domain, they drew the interest of the top the echelons in European society. While they were often utilized in diplomatic exchanges it was the emergence of an industry for these items which led to a massive collection craze that was created as carpets, vase, crystal, ceramics jewelry, and various other metal-based wares were extremely well-known (and popular). When the demand for these “consumer products” was soaring throughout Europe and their connection to Muslim societies changed into the adoption of their designs that were reflected in European visual and artistic culture of the day. While they were valued as objects of possession but what was lost in the process of transport (and maybe due to Europe’s long tradition of ethnicity) was the actual significance and the purpose behind aesthetics. It was the Crusades (1095-1291) did little to strengthen (if not to intensify) the political facets of this connection to Islamic art, so that by the time that the reconquest of Spain was complete around 1492 the possession of these items was usually seen as a symbolic emancipation of power, with valuable works being placed in the property that belonged to European churches.

This love affair with Islamic art continued throughout the 16th and 17th centuries and into the seventeenth century, when European painters often included artisanal craft into their compositions of figurative art. Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) is one of the most famous German painter who contributed in during the Northern Renissance, frequently depicted his subjects with corresponding ceramics or carpets which included the ones that resemble Ottoman and Mamluk examples , which are now in the collection of the Met. Nowadays, it’s not common for art historians and museum curators (including museums like the Met) to use the term “Holbein carpets” to refer to certain Anatolian weavings in the form of “Holbein carpets.” These works are classified as scholarship in accordance with what European artists who used the looms as still-life elements doesn’t even begin to explain the severity of this crime. There are many other instances where the most renowned works in Islamic art are identified not according to their aesthetics or even the painter who painted the work, but rather by reference to the renowned European collector who owned them.

The Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ new galleries dedicated to Islamic art is a continuation of this complex narrative. The majority of the works displayed are the same kinds of “goods” that came into Western consciousness as the result of the two-sided encounters Europe was able to have to”the “Islamic world” in the midst of its dynasties. In the captions the department takes extreme care to explain these “lavish,” “sumptuous,” and “superb” characteristics of these objects, which brings to mind the style that is “documentation” which is the mainstay on the marketplace for antiques. In essence, nothing changes since the 13th century.