Home > BULLETIN >More, More of the Same
Mon, Sep 24th, 2012 11:35:10 PM
Topic: More, More of the Same

The museum world is full of ambitious curators, directors and donors whose ardor to be seen as the best and most important is often hidden from the public, who cannot connect the dots which lie behind their actions.

Take Islamic Art and consider just a few months ago the Metropolitan Museum of Art(MMA) in New York City unveiled their new and improved Islamic galleries, which were not so re-named as they were in the past but now politically sanitized as "Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia. (GAATICALSA)".

Making one think the word "Islamic" is now a dirty one that should not be mentioned in polite company. Or has it just been too sullied by Osama Ben Laden and his boys to be part of a multi-billion dollar "cultural" enterprise like the MMA?

Following on MMA's coattails we have the very recently re-opened, again supposedly new and improved, Islamic galleries, damn there's that dirty word again, at le Louvre in Paris.

Clearly the French are following suit with their richy-rich cousins in Manhattan by having spent many years renovating this section of Louvre but fortunately they have again called it the Islamic Galleries and not the silly euphemism used by the MMA.

But like their richer relatives across the Atlantic they, too, have basically ignored the art of the indigenous peoples of those Arab lands in favor of the courtly and kingly creations of the Ottoman and Safavid.

This pejorative snub is nowhere more in evidence than in the exhibitionof carpets where a visitor to either of these two great museums would not ever get the idea fabulous beautiful and historically important weavings existed outside such royal confines.

When the MMA galleries reopened RK mentioned this unfortunate lapse in curatorial expertise and now that Louvre has opened the door to their new galleries we are seconding our dismay and disapproval.

The reasons these two powerful and influential museums have both done almost exactly the same thing at the same time is, now follow the dots, typical for the museum world where ambition is often hidden behind a PhD or director's plaque on an office door.

And based on past performance it is to be expected, as is the abject ignoring of the equally important weavings made in nameless Anatolia Villages and Turkmen encampments.

When will this change? RK no longer harbors any thoughts it will be in our lifetime, or when the old guard at such "cultural" institutions passes the torch to the next generation.

Sadly, those torches have already been passed, nothing new has happened and the shiny new galleries at the MMA and Louvre continue to present the wealth of "Islamic" weaving traditions only thru the gilded portals of the Ottoman and Safavid dynasties.

Author: Fahad
email: [email protected]
Mon, Sep 24th, 2012 11:35:10 PM

Greetings Fahad:

Thanks for your reply and information.

RK would like to and can respond on several points.

First off, we visited the Islamic Museum in Cairo when we ventured to Egypt in 1989. We spent almost two very memorable months in Cairo and the countryside doing first hand research on two topics.

This was our main reason for visiting Egypt, and to make a long story incredibly short we succeeded way beyond our hopes.

But that said we encountered tremendous difficulties and obstacles, which we were only able to overcome with dedicated persistence and instinctual consciousness.

Our "Cult Kelim" publication, which has been republished online on the Weaving Art Museum website and illustrates a number of previously published "mystery" textiles in the collection of the Islamic Museum in Cairo, was the first of those topics.

Specifically our research was centered on finding "bridge" slit-tapestry, or other types of flat-weave, examples which would fit between the late Bronze Age archaeological objects we illustrated in our IMAGE IDOL SYMBOL: Ancient Anatolian Kelim publication and the group of archetypal kelim our publication contained.

Here is the URL for the Cult Kelim publication:

And here is the URL for the IMAGE IDOL SYMBOL: Ancient Anatolian Kelim publication

Unfortunately we have not had the energy to go back to Cairo to see the new, improved Islamic Museum but intend someday to do so.

As for Islamic Art and "tribal rugs"?

We could write much but in short the rugs and flatweaves which interest RK are basically pre-Islamic in content, their iconography far more pre- than post-Islamic regardless of the fact they were produced during the Islamic age.

Also we dislike the term "tribal rug" and prefer words like small-scale society, non-classical, indigenous people, etc to describe these weavings.

We recently visited Qatar and spent a couple of days in the new Islamic museum, which has fabulous collections of Ottoman and Safavid art including many carpets.

Regrettably, there is not on shred of non-classical weaving, something RK would definitely recommend they remedy.

And of course, Fahad, we agree all art is stolen and, therefore, to truly understand its meaning is neigh on impossible on account of it having been removed from its original context.

Lastly, perhaps someday non-classical weavings will be shown alongside their royal atelier cousins, but as we wrote RK has given up hope this will happen anytime soon.


Hi Jack,

What is "Islamic art" may be a matter of dispute. I want to refer here, for instance, to late Oleg Grabar's revised and enlarged edition of "The Formation of Islamic Art", Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1987; and, more recently, Yasser Tabbaa's "The Transformation of Islamic Art during the Sunni Revival", University of Washington Press 2001, I.B. Tauris Publishers, London New York 2002.

"Islamic" influence in Islamic art is not easy to discern. It may be, as far as I see, also an Orientalistic concept of the West (as if Rock'n Roll and Coca Cola, main contributions of Americans to contemporary popular art, belong to sort of "Christian art").

However, what has been produced under the reign of rulers in Islamic countries in what is called the Middle Ages (a dark period of about 800 years in Europe during which the Islamic world was enlightened and, in fact, bright) is so overwhelming that one is tempted to see strong influence of Islam, a faith.

The main characteristic of enlightened Islamic rulers since the early times of Islam (and this might come as a surprise) was, though, openness to any art and science of the people in countries which have been conquered in a very short period of time and afterwards.

That openness, strange to claim in the 21st century, might in fact be due to Islam.

I find the new name "Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia" very awkward, too.

In fact, misleading.

I want to draw attention to the newly opened Islamic Museum in Cairo (which can certainly not compete with the MMA or Louvre) but is worth a visit (rather than the almost looted Egyptian Museum which most people know from earlier visits) and Qatar's Museum of Islamic Art (which can compete).

Remember that most what is on display in western museums had found its way there from their countries of origin by very questionable (unethical) means (the Heinrich Jacoby style).

Coming back to the influence of Islam in tribal weavings, I was once told by a self-proclaimed pundit (dealer/collector) that there is no.

I begged to differ.

There definitely is. To deny this simple fact is a strange form of (negative)Orientalism as well, imho.



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