Seen in the Studio: Shirin Neshat

Shirin Neshat

Stationed above a busy corner on Canal Street, the studio of the Iranian filmmaker and artist Shirin Neshat whirred with several working film editors and assistants upon our arrival. Neshat is best known for her black-and-white cinematic films addressing gender issues within Islamic culture. She shares the space with her partner Shoja Azari, a fellow filmmaker and frequent collaborator. Conversations in Farsi and Italian were shooting back and forth among the crew. “We are very lucky because our studio is like a community. We’re all close friends and we’re together all the time basically,” said Neshat.

Read More: Seen in the Studio: Shirin Neshat

Asheer Akram’s Sculptures at Belger Crane Yard Decode the Mystical

Asheer Akran

One attribute that is common to original thinkers is an ability to perceive what is intangible in human experience and to translate it into comprehensible terms. As Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing that we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” Asheer Akram’s “Sacred Spaces” exhibition attempts to express the concepts that Einstein describes. On view at the Belger Crane Yard Gallery, the works decode mystical experience into visual form. Dualities of material and content are paired in massive sculptures, large wall reliefs and smaller ceramic vessels. Components that are ponderous and hefty, such as steel, oak and clay, are cut and formed in evanescent filigrees that riff on Islamic patterns.

Read More: Asheer Akram’s Sculptures at Belger Crane Yard Decode the Mystical

Manuscripts Rescued from the Hands of Islamist Rebels

Timbuktu renaissance

A series of 15th- and 16th-century manuscripts, smuggled out of Timbuktu in 2012 after the city fell into the hands of Islamist rebels, go on show this week (19 December 2014 – 22 February 2015) at the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels (Bozar). The exhibition, “Timbuktu Renaissance”, includes 16 original manuscripts with texts about science, politics and law, and was organised by Abdel Kader Haidara, the director of the Mamma Haidara library in Timbuktu. After war broke out in Mali in April 2012, and jihadist insurgents took over the city, he helped secretly transport a trove of manuscripts, books and documents to the Malian capital Bamako.

Read More:  Manuscripts Rescued from the Hands of Islamist Rebels

Freer, Sackler Galleries Going Global by Showcasing Entire Collections Online


They chose a pretty piece for last. Photographer John Tsantes had placed the “Seated Princess” — an opaque watercolor and gold painting that is part of the famed Islamic collection of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery — on his table and focused the cutting-edge digital camera mounted overhead. And in the split-second it took for the camera’s shutter to close, the museum completed a multi-year effort to digitize its 40,000-item collection. The 400-year-old artwork was the last of works owned by the Smithsonian’s Asian art museums to be digitally recorded. The images go online Jan. 1, making this boutique Smithsonian the first of the franchise to share its entire collection with a global audience.

Read More: Freer, Sackler Galleries Going Global

The Lost Dhow: Aga Khan Exhibit Showcases Links Between Ancient Islam and China

Lost dhow 2

Hear the word “Islam” these days and, for many, visions of beheadings, demagogic mullahs, hollow-eyed refugees and gun-toting jihadis are almost sure to follow. While hardly fair or truthful, this mental slide show is nevertheless an understandable result of the way Islam, or at least acts perpetrated by some in the name of Islam, is portrayed via the 24/7 news cycle. It was something of a balm, then, to visit the recently opened Aga Khan Museum in North Toronto the other day for a tour of its newest exhibition. “The Lost Dhow: A Discovery from the Maritime Silk Route” presents more than 300 artifacts from a cache of more than 50,000 recovered in 1998 from the remains of a ninth-century Arab dhow found at the bottom of the Java Sea.

Read More: The Lost Dhow

See also: Shipwreck Treasure Exhibit at Aga Khan Museum

Stealing from History: The Looting and Destruction of Iraqi and Syrian Heritage Concern Us All

Stealing from History

In September, the US secretary of state John Kerry told an audience gathered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York about another disaster facing Syria, a country already gripped by catastrophic civil war. In no uncertain terms, he warned of the scourge of the looting of archaeological sites, labelling ISIL the worst offender. “The looting of Apamea and Dura-­Europos, the devastation caused by fighting in the ancient Unesco heritage city of Aleppo, the destruction of the Tomb of Jonah – these appalling acts aren’t just a tragedy for the Syrian and the Iraqi people,” Kerry said. “These acts of vandalism are a tragedy for all civilised people, and the civilised world must take a stand.”

Read More: Stealing from History

Shipwreck Treasure Exhibit at Aga Khan Museum

Lost dhow

Artifacts from the earliest and most significant Arab shipwreck discovered will be on display during an exhibit at the Aga Khan Museum. “The Lost Dhow: A Discovery From the Maritime Silk Route”, will be held at the Wynford Drive museum December 19 [2014] to April 26 [2015], marking its North American premiere. Jointly organized by the Asian Civilisations Museum of Singapore, the Singapore Tourism Board, and the Aga Khan Museum, the exhibit of ninth-century Chinese artifacts offers a glimpse of rare Tang dynasty objects from the shipwreck found in Southeast Asia in 1998.

Read More: Shipwreck Treasure Exhibit at Aga Khan Museum

The Many Faces of John Carswell

John Carswell

The vaulted ceilings and thick stone pillars of Ada Dodge Hall find unexpected echoes in the enormous white sculptures that fill the space this winter, ghosts of the university’s past resurrected almost half a century after their creation. A two-part exhibition entitled “Trans-Oriental Monochrome: John Carswell” is currently filling both the on-campus AUB Byblos Bank Art Gallery and the nearby Rose and Shaheen Saleeby Museum.

Read More: The Many Faces of John Carswell

Persian Letters

Persian letters

When the famed calligrapher Mir Emad was murdered at the Safavid court in 1615 – perhaps on account of artistic rivalry or perhaps because of his religious affiliations – an important chapter in the history of the calligraphic script known as nasta’liq came to a close. Mir Emad was not the originator of nasta’liq, which emerged in 14th century Iran as a likely marriage of two other styles (nashk and ta’liq), but he was nonetheless largely regarded as its undisputed master, attracting admirers among his Safavid patrons, Mughal emperors in South Asia, and countless others even long after his death.

Read More: Persian Letters

No Turkish Loans for Big Seljuk Turk Show Planned by the Met

Seljuk exhibition at Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is organising a major exhibition on the Seljuks, whose medieval Islamic empire expanded from central Asia into much of modern Anatolia in Turkey, without loans from Turkey, The Art Newspaper has learned. Experts fear that loans from any collections in Iran or Russia will also be missing in the Met’s show.

Read More: No Turkish Loans for Big Seljuk Turk Show Planned by the Met

Turkey Through the Eyes of a Danish Photographer

Finn Larsen

“It is a journey in the middle of Turkey. In the midst of its everyday life,” states the description of Finn Larsen’s exhibition, currently displayed at The David Collection in Copenhagen, a well-respected museum that holds Scandinavia’s largest collection of Islamic art, among the 10 most important in the Western world. Larsen’s exhibition, titled Travels in Turkey, is a photographic series of Turkey through a Danish photographer’s eye; it is of a journey that started as a coincidence but ended as being the photographer’s reality.

Read More: Turkey Through the Eyes of a Danish Photographer

Dara to Rule the British Stage

Dara Shikuh

For the first time in the history of Pakistani theatre, a stage play has been adapted by a British production team and will open at the National Theatre in London on January 20, [2015]. Originally written by acclaimed playwright Shahid Nadeem, Dara has been commissioned by National Theatre director Sir Nicholas Hynter, directed by associate director Nadia Fall and adapted by Tanya Ronder.  The cast members are well-known British actors, many of them of South Asian origin.

Read More: Dara to Rule the British Stage

Restoration Under Way on Qusayr ’Amra Wall Paintings

Quseir Amra

Around 26% of the 380 sq. m wall paintings at the Unesco World Heritage Site of Qusayr ’Amra in Jordan have been restored by the Italian Higher Institute of Conservation and Restoration, in collaboration with the World Monuments Fund (WMF) and the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. A campaign to conserve the exterior and decorations of the eighth-century Umayyad palace, which contains exceptional examples of early Islamic art, was launched in 2008 after its inclusion on the WMF Watch list.

Read More: Restoration Under Way on Qusayr ‘Amra Wall Paintings

In Search of Harmony

AKM Toronto 25

Eighteen years in the planning, the $300m Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre complex in Toronto consists of two important buildings by octogenarian master architects – Japan’s Fumihiko Maki for the museum and India’s Charles Correa for the centre – in a new city park by Lebanon-based landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic. Exhibition design is by Adrien Gardère from Paris, so this is all as international as could be. The aim is to celebrate the artistic, intellectual and scientific achievements of Muslim societies from ancient times to the present, and to serve the Ismaili community of the area.

Read More: In Search of Harmony

See also: The Aga Khan Museum: Faith Healer

Chausath Khamba Tomb Reopens After Four Years of Painstaking Work

Chausath Khamba

With Sufi singers singing Amir Khusro’s tunes in the backdrop, Mirza Aziz Koka’s restored tomb was opened to the public after four years of work. Better known as Chausath Khamba for its 64 pillars, the marble structure stands close to the Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s dargah and Mirza Ghalib’s mausoleum. Over three centuries of damage had caused the monument to lose its shine until the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and the Archaeological Survey of India joined hands with the German Embassy for its restoration.

Read More: Chausath Khamba Tomb Reopens After Four Years of Painstaking Work

Alamut Fortress to be Registered in World Heritage Site


Alamut fortress is a magnificent and well-insulated castle northeast of Gazerkhan village built on a massive rock in an altitude of 2100 meters above sea level and leads to horribly stiff cliffs. Historian and geographer Hamdollah Mostofi wrote that the fortress was founded by da’i Hassan ibn Zeid al-Baqeri in 226 AH, and in the night of Rajab 6, 483 AH (September 10, 1090 AD) was overtaken by Hassan Sabbah, and now it is called Alamut or Hassan Sabbah fortress.

Read More: Alamut Fortress to be Registered in World Heritage Site

The Aga Khan Museum: Faith Healer

AKM Toronto 24

The Aga Khan Museum is glistening confidently, almost defiantly, beneath overcast skies when monocle visits. Opened in September on the outskirts of Toronto, it is North America’s first repository of artworks and artefacts from the Muslim world. The Aga Khan, the France-based spiritual leader of an estimated 15 million Ismaili Muslims, conceived the project 20 years ago. “The objective is to educate the world not through the formal language of textbooks but through the language of objects, which have emotional impact on both young and old,” says Luis Monreal, general manager of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

Read More: The Aga Khan Museum: Faith Healer

See also: The Aga Khan Museum: The Riches of the Islamic World

Preserving Heritage: Walled City of Lahore Authority Gets Rs770 Million for Royal Trail Restoration

Walled City of Lahore

The Punjab government on Monday provided Rs770 million to the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) to restore buildings located on the Royal Trail. The area includes Kotwali to Masti Gate through Chuna Mandi Chowk and Moti Bazaar and Purani Kotwali Chowk to Sonehri Mosque via Dabbi Bazaar. The funds were approved by the Planning and Development Department chairman. Rs667 million has been provided for infrastructure development and Rs103 million for facade improvement.

Read More: Walled City of Lahore Gets Rs770 Million for Royal Trail Restoration

In New Delhi, It’s Back to the Future for a Star Architect

Ratish Nanda 2

It’s amazing how the accident of life can turn a career — and in this case, perhaps reshape the way a city of more than 16 million looks at both its ruins and some of its future buildings. In the case of Ratish Nanda, it happened when a professor at a New Delhi college asked him and other students to write a paper on urban villages near their homes. During his research, Nanda discovered that he was living amid the ruins of a dynasty but didn’t know it.

Read More: In New Delhi, It’s Back to the Future for a Star Architect

The Aga Khan Museum: The Riches of the Islamic World

AKM Toronto 23

The low-slung, white-granite Aga Khan Museum in north-east Toronto shimmers through the autumn leaves. On first view the newly opened 17-acre site seems like an image out of a desert dream. It has a garden with five reflecting pools, as well as a dramatic, glass-domed prayer hall and a community centre for local Shia Ismaili Muslims. (The Aga Khan is spiritual leader and adviser to the world’s 20m Ismailis.) This 21st-century evocation of the Muslim East — an unexpected sight in a city that gets covered in snow for months each year — makes a fantastical introduction to a museum of Islamic arts.

Read More: The Aga Khan Museum: The Riches of the Islamic World

See also: First Muslim Art Museum in North America Aims to Create Better Understanding of Islam

The Blossoming Talent Behind the Floral Mosaics of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Beds of dark-pink bougainvillea provide the only accent in the formal gardens that envelop the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a near-monochrome landscape that’s as restrained as it is green. Featuring hedges of clipped Indian privet (Clerodendron inerme) and Texas ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens) as well as date palms and fragrant frangipani (Plumeria obtusa), the gardens form a buffer that helps to calm tourists and worshippers alike, while filtering out the roar of nearby traffic with the sound of fountains and ­birdsong.

Read More: The Blossoming Talent Behind the Floral Mosaics of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Mecca Under Threat: Outrage at Plan to Destroy the ‘Birthplace’ of the Prophet Mohamed and Replace It With a New Palace and Luxury Malls

Mecca under threat

The site in Mecca where the Prophet Mohamed is said to have been born is about to be “buried under marble” and replaced by a huge royal palace. The work is part of a multibillion-pound construction project in the holy city which has already resulted in the destruction of hundreds of historic monuments. The project, which began several years ago, aims to expand the al-Masjid al-Haram, or the Grand Mosque, to cater for the millions of pilgrims who make their way to the holy city each year for the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are obliged to make at least once.

Read More: Mecca Under Threat

See also: As the Hajj Begins, the Destruction of Mecca’s Heritage Continues

World’s Richest Art Collector Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani of Qatar Dies Suddenly

Sheikh Saud Al Thani

A Qatari royal hailed as one of the most powerful men in art after spending more than $1bn creating a collection to rival the great European galleries has died suddenly in London aged just 48. Sheikh Saud Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Thani, a former Qatari culture minister and cousin of the current ruler of the oil-rich Arab state, passed away at his residence in the capital on Sunday. The cause of death has not been revealed.

Read More: World’s Richest Art Collector Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani of Qatar Dies Suddenly

First Muslim Art Museum in North America Aims to Create Better Understanding of Islam

AKM Toronto 22

One of the world’s most unique art collections, curated by Muslim royalty, opened recently not in Dubai, Tehran, London or even Paris — but just over the border in Toronto. The Canadian city famous for its troubled former mayor and frigid winters is now known among cognoscenti for one of the top Muslim art and culture collections anywhere, curated in a glass and granite space specifically designed to showcase the diversity of Muslim cultures in the West. The Aga Khan Museum is being hailed as the first museum in North America dedicated to Muslim art and culture — and its location makes a statement that goes beyond the impressive exhibits.

Read More: First Muslim Art Museum in North America Aims to Create Better Understanding of Islam

See also: Islamic Arts Showcased in Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum

World’s Biggest Art Collector – Sheikh Saud Al Thani – Dies at Age 48

Sheikh Saud Al Thani

Once widely regarded as the world’s richest and most powerful art collector, Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani of Qatar died suddenly at his home in London on November 9, age 48. Details of his death have not been announced, although initial reports say it was from natural causes. A cousin of the Qatar’s current Emir, Sheikh Al-Thani served as the country’s president of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage, from 1997 to 2005. During his tenure, he oversaw the development of the oil-rich nation’s ambitious plans to build an extensive network of new schools, libraries, and museums. He also spent well over $1 billion on art purchases during that period, more than any other individual, according to many art-market observers.

Read More: Sheikh Saud Al Thani


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