Over the past few months, sculptor Parviz Tanavoli has been described to me as a visionary who is “a giant among his generation;” a master of modern art who “almost single-handedly resurrected sculpture as an art form in Iran”; and “quite simply the most famous and influential living artist from the Islamic world.” Tanavoli, who was born in Iran, divides his time between Tehran and Horseshoe Bay, north of Vancouver, where he has lived since 1989. But while 2015 is shaping up to be perhaps the biggest of his career, with a major retrospective that has just opened outside Boston and more to come, recognition has largely eluded him at home in Canada.
Two new exhibitions, distinct but connected by one man’s passion for India, open to the public starting Saturday, February 21 at the Aga Khan Museum. One of the exhibitions called the “Visions of Mughal India: The Collection of Howard Hodgkin” features 60 historical works from the British artist’s personal collection. The other exhibition to be displayed in tandem is called “Inspired by India: Paintings by Howard Hodgkin”, which features eight of Hodgkin’s expressive paintings.
A record-breaking ancient treasure trove of gold coins has been discovered along the Israeli coast, in what is believed to be the largest-ever such find in Israel. The astonishing haul was discovered by accident, when a group of divers from a local diving club at the ancient harbor in Caesarea National Park stumbled upon what they thought was a toy coin discarded by a tourist. But after realizing the coins were “the real thing” they quickly collected several samples and returned to the shore in order to inform the director of the diving club, who in turn reported the discovery to the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The largest treasure of gold coins discovered in Israel was found in recent weeks on the seabed in the ancient harbor in Caesarea National Park, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said on Tuesday. A group of divers from the diving club in the harbor reported the find to the IAA whose officials then went with the divers to the location with a metal detector and uncovered almost 2,000 gold coins from the Fatimid period (eleventh century CE) in different denominations: a dinar, half dinar and quarter dinar, of various dimensions and weight.
A new exhibition at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute Museum will offer a glimpse into everyday life in a lively, multicultural city in ancient Egypt. “A Cosmopolitan City: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Old Cairo” features many objects that have never been displayed in the museum before and shows how people of different faiths interacted to create a vibrant society. The exhibition is on view from Tuesday, February 17 through September 13 . The exhibition sheds light on Egypt in the time between the pharaohs and the modern city, roughly 650–1170 AD, when the main population lived in the area known as Fustat, located in today’s southern Cairo.
On 16 March 2014 renowned Iranian sculptor Parviz Tanavoli awoke in his Tehran home to the sound of his daughter screaming. Twenty men had broken the locks on the door and entered his home. They refused to show identification, and proceeded to seize all the artwork they could find. Tanavoli’s daughter filmed the men as they bound the massive sculptures with metal chains and lifted them with small cranes onto pickup trucks waiting on the street outside. One rectangular bronze piece was not harnessed securely, and fell off its wooden pallet onto the street.
See also: Parviz Tanavoli: Plenty of ‘Nothing’
The 1,000-year-old dome of a mausoleum in Aswan’s Fatimid cemetery was severely damaged Monday [February 9th, 2015] after a derrick fell on it during nearby construction, said head of Islamic and Coptic Monuments Dept. at the antiquities ministry Mohamed Abdel Latif. In a phone call with al-Mehwar TV channel, Abdel Latif said the boom of a derrick, working in the neighboring area where the Aswan International Sculpture Symposium is being held, “malfunctioned and fell causing damage to the southern part of the fence surrounding the Maadawi dome mausoleum along with half of the dome’s top.”
Navinda Hajat Haidar is the curator and the guiding force behind New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s, better known as the Met, newly renovated Islamic art wing. Previously known as the Islamic Art galleries, the new galleries opened to the public 10 years after the 9/11 attacks to wide public approval. An Oxford-educated art historian, 48-year-old Haidar was in Delhi, taking part in a symposium on the arts of the Deccan, organised by the Aesthetics Project, that dovetailed into an exhibition currently being held at the National Museum.
Read More: Deccan Art’s Syncretic Touch
It is rare for an Iranian artist to be widely celebrated at home, withstanding the scrutiny of a nation in love with both art and the contemporary and yet highly critical of its living artists because it recognizes the contemporary as a category imposed from the outside. Born in 1937, Parviz Tanavoli has become a legendary figure through a prolific career as artist, scholar and teacher. Iran’s first significant modern sculptor, he works in a style distinctly his own, undeniably modern, and entirely Iranian. In bringing together over 50 years of his art in his first US solo museum exhibition, the Davis Museum has the task of engaging with thousands of years of cultural heritage, which Tanavoli draws on with fervour and ease.
Read More: Parviz Tanavoli: Plenty of ‘Nothing’
Fact after revelatory fact spills out of the Iranian artist Parviz Tanavoli. The 78-year-old, Tehran-born sculptor, scholar and polymath is ruminating on his life and work during an absorbing Skype chat from his home in Vancouver. He describes, for instance, how in 1962 he put together a contemporary Iranian art exhibition tour of the US, which opened in Minneapolis.
For most of us, a knock at the door is nothing to worry about. But when Ahmad Tabrizi first arrived in Vancouver as a refugee from Iran in 1987, that sound meant something ominous. “When I came here, I didn’t speak any English,” Tabrizi said in an interview. “When I heard a knock at the door, I thought: ‘Is that Immigration coming to take me away?’” Yet, as he soon discovered, it wasn’t always something he had to fear.
Read More: Ahmad Tabrizi
Iran’s Women Police Academy had existed for just two years in 2005 when Iranian artist Abbas Kowsari went to photograph a graduation ceremony. The women wore hijabs as they did things such as scaling walls, which is what they’re doing in the Kowsari photo on view in LACMA’s “Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East”. Kowsari had to ask permission to take the photo, and it has an understated feeling: Four staggered figures in flowing black robes look as if they’re almost floating up a brick and concrete wall.
As a young boy Parviv Tanavoli’s favourite toy was the simple lock. As there were no ready-made toys like those of today he would take them apart, fix them and make keys for the ones that didn’t work. “I was the locksmith of the neighbourhood because all the locks in those days had one key and they were handmade. There weren’t that many machine-made locks. If there were they were very expensive,” he tells me. Later Tanavoli went to Italy to study. It was on his return, he recalls, that he realised the role locks played in Shia Islam and Persian culture. In Iran public water houses were built in bazaars and neighbourhoods and during the hot summers passers-by would stop to take a sip of water. Gradually people started to make donations and the water houses became shrine-like decorated with imagery of the imams.
Thomas W. Lentz, Cabot director of the Harvard Art Museums, today announced that he would step down at the end of the academic year — a surprising and apparently unexpected development that comes less than three months after the November 16 gala reopening of the wholly renovated, reconfigured museums complex. The more than decade-long reconstruction and consolidation of the collections in a new space built in, around, and above the original Fogg structure, with extensive teaching and conservation facilities included, was the focus of Lentz’s work since his arrival in late 2003. An expert on Islamic art (specifically, Persian painting), he earned his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1985, and immediately before returning to Cambridge to assume the museums’ directorship had served as director of the Smithsonian Institution’s international art museums, including the Freer and Sackler galleries and the National Museum of African Art.
Read More: Thomas Lentz to Leave Harvard Art Museums
Sometime in the late 18th century an Indian painter, clearly frustrated with his patron, scribbled a small prayer in the margins of a manuscript on which he was working: “Protect me O Lord, from oil, from water, from fire and from poor binding,” he wrote. “And save me from falling into the hands of a fool.” Most historians of Indian art have tended to look at their subject from the point of view of the patron.
The Victoria and Albert museum has attempted to conceal its ownership of a devotional image of the prophet Muhammad, citing security concerns, in what is part of a wider pattern of apparent self-censorship by British institutions that scholars fear could undermine public understanding of Islamic art and the diversity of Muslim traditions. Similar images have been shown in exhibitions across Europe and America without prompting outrage, much less protests or a violent response. Made by Muslim artists for fellow Muslims, they come from a long but often overlooked tradition.
A German Jewish Iranologist, who lost his University of Berlin post in 1935 after officially declaring that his grandparents were Jewish, is one of several focuses of an exhibit about Asian travel at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. “The Traveler’s Eye: Scenes of Asia” is on view through May 31. Ernst Herzfeld is not a household name but is renowned for his 1911-13 excavations in Samarra, an Islamic pilgrimage destination in Iraq designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007, and his 1931-34 work in Persepolis, where he unearthed the ruins of Darius the Great’s palace, which Alexander the Great destroyed.
The Sursock Museum has been officially out of action for eight years, a long time by any measure. For many, though, its absence has been felt for much longer. “I would say that the museum was absent from the postwar period, for my generation at least,” mused Zeina Arida, the energetic 44-year-old who stepped into the position of director about a year ago. “It was not part of the cultural landscape … It’s as if the museum was somehow asleep for a while.”
Read More: Sursock Museum Set to Reawaken
Geometric Aljamia: A Cultural Transliteration transforms the Malinda Jolley Mortin Gallery of Kennesaw State University’s Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum into a place of quiet, and sometimes disconcerting, beauty [through February 21, 2015]. The exhibition’s title is instructive. The very idea of transliteration, the linguistic term for letters or words made from a different alphabet or language, is critical to understanding this show of work by six artists with multicultural backgrounds. The Spanish word aljamía is itself a transliteration of Arabic letters, words and Moorish texts written in Iberian Romance languages in Arabic script.
When a 20-year old Iranian art student moved to New York in 1944 from her hometown, the ancient city of Qazvin, she soon found herself mixing with the brightest players of the city’s art scene including Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol. John Cage crowned her “that beautiful Persian girl”. But the work of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian had a different source, not in Warhol’s Factory or Matthattan’s Studio 54 nightclub but beneath the crystalline high-domed hall of the Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz, southern Iran. There she had experienced in 1966 a transformative encounter she compared to “walking into a diamond at the centre of the sun”.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East, opening Feb. 1, 2015, the first major exhibition of LACMA’s holdings of Middle Eastern contemporary art — the largest such institutional collection in the United States. In recent years, the parameters of Islamic art have expanded to include contemporary works by artists from or with roots in the Middle East. Drawing inspiration from their own cultural traditions, these artists use techniques and incorporate imagery and ideas from earlier periods. LACMA has only recently begun to acquire such work within the context of its holdings of Islamic art, understanding that the ultimate success and relevance of this collection lies in building creative links between the past, present, and future.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art announced Tuesday its intention to lend more than 130 pieces of its Islamic art collection to a museum under construction in Saudi Arabia. The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, scheduled to open in 2016, will show the LACMA pieces along with a new acquisition, a never-before shown 18th century room from a home in Damascus, Syria.
To many Muslims, any image of the prophet Muhammad is sacrilegious, but the ban has not always been absolute and there is a small but rich tradition of devotional Islamic art going back more than seven centuries that does depict God’s messenger. It began with exquisite miniatures from the 13th century, scholars say. Commissioned from Muslim artists by the rich and powerful of their day, they show almost every episode of Muhammad’s life as recounted in the Qur’an and other texts, from birth to death and ascension into heaven.
Read More: Drawing the Prophet
In the wake of the massacre that took place in the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, I have been called upon as a scholar specializing in Islamic paintings of the Prophet to explain whether images of Muhammad are banned in Islam. The short and simple answer is no. The Koran does not prohibit figural imagery. Rather, it castigates the worship of idols, which are understood as concrete embodiments of the polytheistic beliefs that Islam supplanted when it emerged as a purely monotheistic faith in the Arabian Peninsula during the seventh century.
At a time when anything associated with Muslims or Islam may produce responses ranging from unease to outright hostility, the new Aga Khan Museum in Toronto counters those sentiments with a thoughtfully-designed, tranquil place that honors centuries of Islamic art in a space welcoming to all. The Aga Khan Museum, which opened in September, is the result of nearly 20 years of planning and construction. It’s the creation of the museum’s chairman of the board, the Aga Khan, an honorific title inherited by Shah Karim al-Hussaini, a 1959 Harvard University graduate and British citizen who’s founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network and said to be one of the richest royals in the world. I visited the museum just before it opened to the public while I was in the city for the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a world-class attraction and, along with the nearby Ontario Science Center, is well worth a dedicated visit to Toronto.
Read More: A Look at Toronto’s New Aga Khan Museum
See also: Rethinking ‘Islamic Art’