August 2, 2010

Twin exhibits trace an Islamic art

At the Carlos Museum, preparations are under way to present two exhibitions on Islamic calligraphy and the Qur’an.

“Atlanta has not experienced Islamic art on this scale for almost 20 years, not since the Carlos Museum mounted ‘Islamic Art and Patronage:  Treasures from the Kuwait Museum’ in 1991,” notes Carlos  Director Bonnie Speed.

“Traces of the Calligrapher: Islamic Calligraphy in Practice, c. 1600–1900” and “Writing the Word of God: Calligraphy and the Qur’an” open Aug. 28. These complementary exhibitions — on view through Dec. 5 — examine the artistry of calligraphy, folios from the Qur’an, and the tools used to create these works of art, while exploring the social significance associated with calligraphy.

“For Muslims, the writing of God’s words, the Qur’an, is an act of worship in which devotion and beauty join in praise of God,” notes Gordon Newby, professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies.

The exhibitions are composed of approximately 150 objects, revealing the skills of artisans — calligraphers, paper makers, gold beaters, illuminators, bookbinders and metalworkers, to name a few.

“Traces of the Calligrapher” maps the practice of the calligrapher from the 17th through the 19th centuries, both through examples of calligraphy, as well as through tools of the trade.

“Writing the Word of God” is devoted to key developments in Islamic scripts of distinct cultural areas, spanning from Spain and North Africa to greater Iran from the 7th to the 15th centuries.

“The two exhibitions provide a unique opportunity to experience the art of Islamic calligraphy from A to Z,” says Vincent J. Cornell, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Middle East and Islamic Studies. “Visitors will not only be able to observe the range of calligraphic styles from the west and the east of the Muslim world, but also learn how the art itself is an integral part of the material culture of Islam.”

“The exhibitions are just in time for Ramadan,” observes Isam Vaid, executive director of the Association of Emory Muslim Alumni.

“It is very exciting and appropriate for these exhibitions to open during this month of revelation, this month of the Qur’an, this month of fasting, spirituality and unending blessings.  Muslim students and alumni in conjunction with the Carlos Museum will host Iftaars, discussion events and galas to enhance the experience of the exhibitions for Emory students.”

The Carlos Museum has developed a series of educational programs to accompany the exhibitions including lectures by visiting scholars and Emory faculty, as well as an artist-in-residency by calligrapher Aishah Elinor Holland. A student of world-renowned master calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya since 1988, Holland will demonstrate and discuss the art of calligraphy at the museum from Nov. 10-13.

The educational programming kicks off with a Sept. 7 lecture by Newby on scriptural conversations to introduce the Qur’an as the latest conversation partner in the discussion of the Word of God. Newby will also lead a Carlos Reads! Book Club series on William Pickthall’s translation of the Qur’an. Coming this fall are lectures by Cornell; Roxani Margariti, associate professor of Middle Eastern Studies; and Devin Stewart, associate professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies.

“Traces of the Calligrapher: Islamic Calligraphy in Practice, c. 1600–1900” and “Writing the Word of God: Calligraphy and the Qur’an” were organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Harvard Art Museum. For Atlanta exhibition sponsors, visit

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