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Koran. Probably from Indonesia, 18th or 19th Century. Ink and gold on paper in an Islamic binding. (Courtesy of the Asian Civilizations Museum)
Two exhibitions present masterpieces of Islamic art spanning many centuries from different regions and their connections across cultures.
Hosted by Singapore’s Asian Civilizations Museum, the exhibition “Islamic Arts from Southeast Asia: Highlights of the Asian Civilizations Museum” explores the diversity and richness of Islamic art from Southeast Asia.
The second exhibition, “Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum: Architecture in Islamic Arts”, features over 100 works of art, exploring architecture and decoration.
Together, the two exhibitions illustrate the wide range of Islamic arts across the world.
The first exhibition, which comes mainly from the museum’s own collection as well as several recent acquisitions, reveals how artistic ideas from central Islamic lands were adapted in Southeast Asia to create a style that is uniquely its own.
The museum’s chief curator Pedro Moura Carvalho, who is also the exhibition’s curator, said the exhibition focuses on objects with a specific religious purpose or design.
Koran box. Myanmar, late 19th or early 20th Century. Lacquered wood, colored glass, metal and gold leaf. (Courtesy of the Asian Civilizations Museum)
“In many cases, these objects were commissioned by a Muslim patron for use in a mosque, school or other religious context. Many of the objects are inscribed in Arabic — the language of the Koran — or Jawi, the regional script based on Arabic but adapted to reflect the languages of this region,” he says.
The spread of Islam in Southeast Asia after the 14th Century saw the development of distinctive artistic forms influenced by the region’s pre-Islamic traditions.
The exhibition makes great display of the diversity and beauty of these splendidly conceived treasures.
On show are sculptures carved in wood, precious metal objects, ceramics and enamels and textiles, notably batik.
Plan of Medina and Mecca. Folios 110v and 111r from a manuscript of the Dala’il al-khayrat (Guidelines to Blessings) by Muhammad ibn Sulayman-al-Jazuli. Probably Turkey, dated Muharram 1233 AH/November 1818. Watercolor, ink and gold on paper; leather binding with lacquer with gilding.
Religious works of art, Korans, mosque furnishings and secular objects from China and many Southeast Asian countries are included in the exhibition.
“The arts produced by Muslims and for Muslim patrons in Southeast Asia are probably the least studied and understood in the Islamic world. We hope that this exhibition will draw more attention to the richness and variety of Southeast Asian Islamic arts and contribute to a better appreciation of such a unique history,” Carvalho says.
The museum also hosts an exhibition of works of art from the Aga Khan Museum, featuring tours de force of Islamic art and architecture spanning many centuries and from many regions.
Architecture — with tiled and gilt domes, shaded courtyards and inscribed gates — became a natural expression of Islam. The exhibition reveals how Muslim artists perceived the Islamic-built environment.
Over 100 objects — some more than 1,000 years old — range from illuminated manuscripts, paintings and architectural elements to haj certificates and tiles decorated with passages from the Koran, illustrate ideas about space and decoration in both religious and secular environments.
The exhibition also offers insights into some of the great Islamic dynasties: the al-Andalus of the Iberian Peninsula; Ilkhanid, Timurid, and Safavid Iran; Ottoman Turkey; and Mughal India.
“Islamic architecture is one of the most visible aspects of Islamic culture,” says Alan Chong, director of the Asian Civilizations Museum.
“This exhibition approaches architecture from several points of view. Intricately painted illuminations capture the world in miniature, and invite the viewer into splendid palaces and intimate gardens.
At the same time, visitors can inspect carved wooden beams and brilliantly colored glazed tiles that once decorated mosques and other buildings. We hope that visitors will gain new insights into the history and creativity of the Islamic world.”
Singapore is the last stop for the collection, which displayed previously at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, before they become permanent exhibits at the new Aga Khan Museum, opening in Toronto in 2014.
• “Islamic Arts from Southeast Asia: Highlights of the Asian Civilisations Museum” exhibition runs until Jan. 20, 2013
• “Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum: Architecture in Islamic Arts” exhibition runs from July 19 to Oct. 28, 2012
• For further information log on to www.acm.org.sg