Thomas Lentz to Leave Harvard Art Museums

Thomas Lentz

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

The Spirit of Indian Painting by BN Goswamy – An Out-and-Out Masterpiece

Raja Balwant Singh's Hunt by Nainsukh

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.

Read More: The Spirit of Indian Painting – An Out-and-Out Masterpiece

V&A in Row Over Self-Censorship After Muhammad Image is Taken Down

Victoria and Albert museum

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.

Read More: V&A in Row Over Self-Censorship After Muhammad Image is Taken Down

See also: The Koran Does Not Forbid Images of the Prophet

An Eccentric Archaeologist Who Drew a Line in the Sand

Ernst Herzfeld

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.

Read More: An Eccentric Archaeologist Who Drew a Line in the Sand

Sursock Museum Set to Reawaken

Sursock Museum

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

Contemplative, Culture-Crossing Work in “Geometric Aljamia” at Zuckerman

Geometric Aljamia 2

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.

Read More: Contemplative, Culture-Crossing Work in “Geometric Aljamia” at Zuckerman

Infinite Possibility: Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

Monir Farmanfarmaian

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”.

Read More: Infinite Possibility: Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

First Major Exhibition of LACMA’s Middle Eastern Contemporary Art Collection Opens Feb. 1

LACMA Contemporary art exhibition

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.

Read More: First Major Exhibition of LACMA’s Middle Eastern Contemporary Art Collection Opens February 1, 2015

LACMA to Lend Damascus Room, Islamic Art to New Saudi Museum

LACMA Damascus room

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.

Read More: LACMA to Lend Damascus Room, Islamic Art to New Saudi Museum

Drawing the Prophet: Islam’s Hidden History of Muhammad Images

'View of Mecca', 1918. Artist: Etienne Dinet

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

See also: The Koran Does Not Forbid Images of the Prophet

The Koran Does Not Forbid Images of the Prophet

Images of 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.

Read More: The Koran Does Not Forbid Images of the Prophet

A Look at Toronto’s New Aga Khan Museum

AKM Toronto 28

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’

Rethinking ‘Islamic Art’

AKM Toronto 27

For seven years, exhibitions in Asia and Europe have showcased treasures owned by the Aga Khan, the spiritual head of an estimated 10 million to 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims world-wide. The collection of some 1,000 objects has now alighted in its permanent home, the recently opened Aga Khan Museum, the first institution in North America devoted primarily to what it terms the “artistic, intellectual, and scientific heritage of Islamic civilizations.” The 300 or so items on display date from the eighth through the 19th centuries and come from as far west as Morocco and Spain and as far east as India, Indonesia and China, with Egypt, Turkey, Iran and other lands in between.

Read More: Rethinking ‘Islamic Art’

Fathi Hassan Illuminates Ambiguity

Fathi Hassan

The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) presents “Fathi Hassan: Migration of Signs” through April 26. For 30 years, Egyptian-born Nubian artist Fathi Hassan has created mixed-media works that explore the ambiguity of language. His best-known paintings, drawings and installations are comprised of intentionally indecipherable Arabic calligraphy. These text-based works embody the alienation of being faced with language — and by extension a culture — that cannot be read, interpreted or decoded.

Read More: Fathi Hassan Illuminates Ambiguity

An Extensive Calligraphy and Book Arts Collection at Sabancı Museum

Sabanci Museum exhibition

The exhibition of the Arts of the Book and Calligraphy at Sakıp Sabancı Museum (SSM), which features over 200 works of well-known calligraphers and book artists from the 14th to the 20th century, consists of illuminated Qurans, prayer books, calligraphic compositions, albums and panels written by well-known calligraphers, illuminated official documents bearing the imperial cipher of the Ottoman sultans, as well as calligraphers’ tools. As the collections and archives of SSM have been transferred onto a digital platform, the rare manuscripts of Turkish and Islamic arts can be studied page by page. Visitors are able to access these applications with iPads given to them for use by the museum.

Read More: An Extensive Calligraphy and Book Arts Collection at Sabanci Museum

Contemporary and Medieval Morocco

Al-Qaraouiyine chandelier

In front of the Institu du Monde Arabe (IMA), opposite Notre-Dame, stands a huge Western Saharan tent made of goat and camel hair. This typical tent, raised for Moussem festivals, is the work of architect Tarik Oualalou and sets the tone for the exhibition Contemporary Morocco. The Moroccan season, which opened recently in Paris, will long be remembered for its diversity and for exhibits that challenge as much as they dazzle by raising highly topical questions about society, tolerance, equality, extremism, corruption and ecology. The Louvre exhibition, Medieval Morocco, triggers a more emotional response with its medieval religious items and manuscripts on loan from some of the country’s oldest mosques and madrasas. They remind us that Morocco was once the centre of an empire that stretched from Cordoba in Spain to Gao in present day Mali.

Read More: Contemporary and Medieval Morocco

Ottoman Artwork and Buildings Unearthed in Balkans

Ottoman sites in Bosnia

The Ottoman Empire ruled over Bosnia and Herzegovina for over 400 years. When it lost all its territories in the Balkans with the Treaty of Berlin in 1878, the empire left hundreds of buildings behind, including mosques, inns, public baths and madrasahs (Islamic schools). Some of these treasures were either torn down or destroyed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs and Yugoslavia, which had inherited the lands from the Ottomans. [Adnan] Muftarevic and [Mirsad] Avdic [of the Sarajevo Museum], who are the founders of the 1894 Archaeologists Association, have been conducting archaeological excavations focusing on lost Ottoman heritage since 2005.

Read More: Ottoman Artwork and Buildings Unearthed in Balkans

The Master of Small Things

Spirit of Indian Painting

BN Goswamy is to Indian art history what Tendulkar is to its cricket pitches or SRK to its movies: a towering colossus who has transformed the nature of his chosen field, as well as being, at the same time, a much-loved and irreplaceable national treasure. The 81-year-old art historian combines in one elegant frame the eye of the aesthete, the discrimination of a connoisseur and the soul of a poet, with the rigorous mind of a scholar and the elegant prose of a gifted writer. His new book, The Spirit of Indian Painting, is the summation of a lifetime’s loving dedication to his subject. It may well be his most beautiful, and heartfelt work too.

Read More: The Master of Small Things


Aga Khan Inspires with Aim of Cross-Cultural Unity

AKM Toronto 26

If you haven’t quite found your way yet to the new Aga Khan Museum, you really should. As far as I am concerned, its opening was the single most significant style event of 2014. Not only is the building itself, by the Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, a glittering, winged visual poem of Brazilian granite, glass and aluminum, and the Aga Khan’s own collection of Islamic art and antiquities impressive, the museum’s beautiful and timely mission to promote cross-cultural understanding and interconnectedness — and to place it here in the jumble of our amazingly diverse city — is itself an inspiration.

Read More: Aga Khan Inspires with Aim of Cross-Cultural Unity

Kerbela Ballet Rearranged in Suite Album

Kerbela ballet

Turkish composer and musician Can Atilla, one of the biggest names in New Age Turkish music, has announced that he will re-arrange the “Karbala” ballet as a suite album that will be released in the upcoming months. Atilla claims to have made a variety of variations, and improvements, on the famous work, which made its world premiere in March at the İzmir State Opera and Ballet. Similar to the work he did on Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet “The Nutcracker Suite,” Atilla claims to have given “Karbala” a new artistic perspective, while preserving its impact with shortened technical music.

Read More: Kerbela Ballet Rearranged in Suite Album

A Trove Both Precious and Powerful

Treasures from India

As though ruby eyes and diamond teeth were not enough to make the small gold head of a tiger truly shine, the goldsmith dotted its face with yet more gemstones and encircled its neck with emeralds and more rubies. Made about 1790, it is among the older pieces on display in “Treasures from India: Jewels from the Al-Thani Collection,” on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By contrast, in one of the exhibition’s most recent pieces, diamonds cluster in a 2013 Cartier necklace with a 57-carat, drop-shape pendant, its platinum settings virtually invisible — all the eye registers is the liquid beauty of flawless stones. Woven into the dense fabric of history that separates these two works is a story of jewels and jewelry not just from India (as the show’s title states) but also for and inspired by India.

Read More: A Trove Both Precious and Powerful

Turkish and Islamic Art Museum Reopened After 2-Year Refit

Turkish and Islamic Art Museum

Facing the Blue Mosque in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square, the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum was re-opened on Friday [19 December 2014] after intensive restoration work that cost TL 16.4 million ($7.09 million). Erected in 1524, the newly renovated museum was formerly the residential palace of Ottoman Sultan Süleyman I’s Grand Vizier İbrahim Pasha. Speaking during the opening ceremony, Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik said safeguarding our cultural heritage is not a preferential decision, but a must for the future.

Read More: Turkish and Islamic Art Museum Reopened After 2-Year Refit

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


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