Currently, the Islamic Art galleries consist of more than 12,000 artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and are labeled as “Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia.” The artwork in the collection has been collected over the last thousand years, forever capturing valuable art history under one roof. There are certain characteristics which make Islamic art stand out among other cultural art works such as Arabic calligraphy and intricate symmetrical patterns. However, even though the art is considered priceless, recent global events have caused people to reevaluate and reexamine the Islamic culture and try to make a connection between the current events and the past art (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
One of the reasons for the Metropolitan Museums’ choice of words when it came to making a title for the exhibition is that they are trying to make present Islamic art as a secular gallery. This move was triggered by the negative imagery and reception of the Islamic religion, especially in the West. Today, Islam is seen as a violent religion, a misconception which is denied and contradicted by the peaceful nature of Islamic art. Despite any secular labels, however, Islamic art is fundamentally religious, which is evident because of the subject matter and descriptions by the artists themselves. Arabic, which is the fundamental language of the religion as it is the language the Holy Quran is written in, plays an imperative role in Islamic art, similar to how Hebrew is essential to the Jewish tradition (Cotter).
In fact, from the silk cloth pieces to the calligraphy etched in wooden Quran holding shelves, Arabic is used to express the artists’ intentions and purpose for creating a certain art piece. For instance, many colorful manuscripts begin with the words, “Praise be to Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful” which symbolizes the religious connection to the artwork. One exhibition displaying the importance of religion and Arabic language is the Damascus Room, filled with poetry and prayers. The variety of items continues from Persian rugs and carpets to ceramic tiles and crinkled manuscripts (Cotter).
Despite misconceptions, Islamic art does depict humans and other life forms such as animals, which have been documented in all eras (ReligionFAQ). This proves to the modern artists and critique that as in any culture, the Islamic artists rebelled against their limitations, whether they be religious, imposed by rulers or the larger society, through their art. In fact, Islamic art perfectly fits into the modern era, as it encourages intimacy between the art work and the viewer or artist. Most of the art consists of individual items and private subject matter, such as a poem to a lover or a humbling supplication to God. Furthermore, as modern art is used to record present events, Islamic artists did likewise and their art depicts rich culture heritage, cultural injustice and endless beauty (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
I believe that unfortunately, Islamic art is not a topic under discussion today as it does not get the time under the spotlight it deserves. Everything negative about the Islamic culture and religion is continuously highlighted in the news, forcing people to forget the rich heritage of their art. In fact, I see discipline, humble and sincerity in the artists’ masterpieces, along with order, devotion and spirituality which is the essence of Islamic art. There is a growing need for artists, critics and historians to focus on Islamic art and make the knowledge applicable to modern audience in order to attract them to gain benefits from the beautiful and refreshing artistic change.