Islamic Objects of Desire

This November 1, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is opening a new gallery comprised of 15 suites in an exhibit entitled the “New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia” (Vogel).  Although long, the title of the exhibit is meant to stress the connectedness between the various regions in space, time, and art.  The main goal of these suites is to offer a “historical perspective” on the pieces in order to help the audience reconcile what they see in the exhibit with what they have just heard on the news or read in an article about these regions of the world.  This collection contains 12,000 pieces of artwork and spans 13 centuries. Six of these pieces are described in the article to give the reader a taste of what they may encounter while visiting the exhibit.

The piece displayed at the entrance to the galleries is an example of calligraphy from the 15th century in present-day Uzbekistan.  They are thought to be from “the world’s largest Koran” and give the viewer a sense of how large the Koran actually was (Vogel).  The second piece comes from the 16th century and belonged first to Peter the Great and then to Leopold I.  It is known as the “Emperor’s Carpet” and has only been on display two times before because of its terrible condition.  However the carpet has been repaired and is one of the “masterpieces” of the exhibit.  An Elephant-shaped water jar (made of stone and painted blue), from 17th century Iran, is the third piece mentioned.  Next is a watercolor thought to illustrate the Hindu epic “The Legend of Hari”.  It is displayed in order to show the viewer the timelessness of the piece – the villagers look similar to those in modern times.  The chess set that is on display is from 12th century Iran and is one of the earliest known nearly complete sets (it’s only missing one piece).  The set looks modernized due to the abstraction of the pieces but is still something that a viewer would recognize as a chess game, showing the timelessness of this piece as well.  Finally, a length of fabric from 16th century Istanbul is on display.  The fabric is made of silk and displays a collection of tulips and carnations.

It is smart of the Met to display their 12,000 pieces in this manner because it gives the viewer the opportunity to see the pieces in context.  By having items that span 13 centuries, the viewer can see the growth and change that has occurred in these various countries and how it has affected the culture and consequently the artwork.


Work Cited:

Vogel, Carol. “Islamic Objects of Desire.” New York Times 21 10 2011. n. pag. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. < art&st=cse>.

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2 Responses to Islamic Objects of Desire

  1. aashaikh says:

    I saw a video of this exact thing on the BBC website and it really is fascinating. It’s really a great moment when just 10 years after 9/11 we can have such an impressive display of Islamic art in the same city. As was mentioned in the above comment, art can be used as a type of cultural diplomacy where we can focus on the commonalities between cultures rather than the differences. As the video pointed out, it shines a light on the big picture, that Islamic civilization was and is a rich and vibrant culture with their own artwork and history, not a mere mash-up of dictators and human rights violations that the media and government may want us to believe. Also, in the display there are current renderings of Islamic art and architecture, some still in the grand traditional style, and it helps to make the art seem more current and relevant.

    Without further ado, here’s the video:

  2. tnfeenstra says:

    I think this blog post is very interesting. I think it is really interesting that the Emperor’s Carpet has only been displayed twice before, so this should certainly attract viewers. Additionally, I think it will be done tastefully by including works from so many centuries so people truly immerse themselves in the culture and history through the art. Much like we study development over time in this class, the museum’s exhibit will be able to show this to many viewers. Additionally, with the political issues surrounding Islam, especially since the September 11, 2001 attacks and with the proposed and highly controversial construction of a mosque near Ground Zero, this exhibit could help expose people to the more common and reverent side of Islam and help break stereotypes in America.

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