Kuala Lumpur, 12 December 2023 – For the first time in its 25-year history, the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) is launching two exhibitions simultaneously. To mark a quarter century of creating a new cultural direction for Malaysia, the IAMM presents “A Journey through Islamic Art” and “Alif Lam Ra: Contemporary Muslim Calligraphy.”
Both exhibitions highlight the museum’s role as a custodian, preserver and knowledge provider of Islamic art since its opening in December 1998.
The diversity of this mission is highlighted by the very different content on display in the IAMM’s two large temporary-exhibition spaces. With these two exhibitions, the total number is now up to 77.
The astonishing breadth of art from the Islamic world is explored in “A Journey”. Covering more than a thousand years of cultures that stretch from East Asia to West Africa, there could be no better overview. Every object on display is from the IAMM collection, which has itself become far larger and more diverse over the years. As well as a variety of different lands and epochs, there is also a profusion of different materials. Muslim artisans have worked in every medium from textiles and wood to metal and ceramic. Striving for excellence of design and exquisite workmanship, the results are a feast for the eyes as well as for inquiring minds.
To understand the Islamic world, look no further than its creative output. “A Journey” encompasses the full range of these aesthetic marvels. Every object tells a story; from the IAMM’s first acquisition – a 17th-century Chinese Qur’an in 30 volumes, that was produced during the Qing Dynasty – to more recent additions such as the most intricate jewellery. Noteworthy among them is a rare charger by the esteemed Baba Nakkash, credited as the pioneer of the Ottoman court’s Rumi-Hatayi design. This charger, one of five in existence, graced banquets in the Ottoman palace, embodying a royal style crafted in Iznik ateliers.
The collection extends to textile masterpieces, including the opulent Sogdian Robe from Central Asia’s Silk Road and a Fatimid Dynasty tiraz band fragment, showcasing the exclusive craftsmanship of royal workshops. Marvel at the imperial Spinel necklace adorned with 17th-century beads engraved with Mughal court names. The spinel beads, also known as ‘Balas Rubies’ were highly prized in the Mughal treasury.
Equally impressive is the Umayyad brass astrolabe from Cordoba, a rare creation by scientist Muhammad al-Saffar dating back to 411 AH.
Seen together, these disparate elements make it clear why Islamic art has been held in such high regard for so many centuries by societies that were often decidedly non-Islamic.
This admiration has continued into the modern world. The field of Islamic art that has always been at the apex is calligraphy. Highlighting this art’s central importance is an exhibition with the enigmatic tile
“Alif Lam Ra: Contemporary Muslim Calligraphy”. The display of works by contemporary Muslim calligraphers invites visitors to witness the evolution of calligraphy as the supreme medium of expression within Islam. Whatever the viewer’s faith, the experience can be deeply moving.
Divided into seven major sections, “Alif Lam Ra: Contemporary Muslim Calligraphy” examines the transformation of calligraphy from a means of conveying a message to becoming a tool for expressing profound inner feelings and mystical impressions. It traces the journey from early calligraphers’ devotion to the revealed word of God to contemporary innovations in ways of presenting words and letters into artistic expression.
Among the featured calligraphers, Fuad Kouichi Honda captivates with his intricate and harmonious strokes, seamlessly blending tradition with modernity. His work echoes a profound respect for the rich heritage of Islamic calligraphy while infusing it with a contemporary flair. Azra Aghighi Bakhshayeshi’s contribution to the exhibition is marked by a delicate balance of precision and artistic innovation. Her distinctive style reflects a nuanced understanding of traditional calligraphic elements, interwoven with a unique, contemporary perspective. Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, a luminary in the realm of contemporary calligraphy, is celebrated for pushing artistic boundaries. His avant-garde approach fuses calligraphy with abstract expressionism, resulting in a dynamic visual language that challenges conventional norms. Each artist brings a unique voice and perspective, contributing to the ongoing evolution of this venerable art form.
Maintaining the importance of the written word as a means of disseminating knowledge, the Islamic Arts Museum has published two catalogues to accompany the exhibitions. With contributions from scholars and other authorities, the complexities of Islamic aestretics are revealed in a comprehensive and comprehensible manner. Telling a* truly visual story are more than 150 artefacts that have been selected for “A Journey through Islamic Art” and “Alif Lam Ra: Contemporary Muslim Calligraphy”.
To put on these two exhibitions at the same time is a feat of logistics that proves the maturity of the IAMM. As with every show held at the museum, it is a combination of work by different teams that have grown with the institution itself. Whether curators, conservators, educators or display professionals, all have developed their skills and passion with the passage of time and growth of the collection.
“We are incredibly proud to reach this significant milestone in our journey,” states Rekha Verma, Deputy Head of Curatorial Affairs Department. “Over the past 25 years, the IAMM has been a beacon of cultural exchange, preserving the rich legacy of Islamic art and sharing it with the world. This anniversary celebration is a testament to our commitment to promoting understanding and appreciation of Islamic art.”
To supplement the exhibitions there is a variety of panel talks, educational activities and calligraphy workshops. These include interaction with one of the most renowned Islamic calligraphers in Asia and the whole world. Fuad Kouichi Honda has come from Japan with 20 of his students for a rare opportunity to learn from a legendary master.
To confirm the importance of the double-exhibition launch, this landmark event will be officiated by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, YAB Dato’ Seri Anwar Bin Ibrahim.
“A Journey through Islamic Art” and “Alif Lam Ra: Contemporary Muslim Calligraphy” will be on display at Special Galleries 1 and 2 of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia from 12th December 2023 to 30th June 2024