The MFAH initiative to collect works of art from the Islamic world springs from a desire to advance appreciation for this artistic tradition and foster a deeper understanding of the complex civilization behind its development.
Islam, the religion founded by the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, spread over a large territory stretching from Spain to Southeast Asia. During the following 14 centuries, this area witnessed the development of a new artistic tradition that is alternatively called “Islamic art” or “arts of the Islamic world.”
Islamic art is not only religious—as the term may seem to suggest—but was also created for secular purposes. While religious architecture and furnishings, and the production of Qur’ans remain a major focus of artistic patronage, secular works of art account for the greatest majority of works of Islamic art. These include ceramics, glass, ivories, metalwork, textiles, and illustrated books.
Islamic art is also transnational. In spite of its many regional styles and productions, a unified nature and distinct features characterize it across time and geographies. The prominent use of the written word and a preference for allover ornamentation of abstract nature, both geometric and vegetal, are two of the most recurrent. Figurative motifs, generally and erroneously considered prohibited in this tradition, represent an equally important source of artistic inspiration, although they predominantly occur in secular contexts.
Spanning the 9th to early 20th century, the objects in the growing collection have primarily been acquired with funds raised at two Arts of the Islamic World galas, with support from the patron group Friends of the Arts of the Islamic World, and with gifts from generous donors.
The department's long-term goal is to establish a collection reflecting the regional, chronological, and material diversity of the Islamic artistic tradition. In addition to the art on view in the gallery, the MFAH presents thematic exhibitions and a wide range of related public programs and lectures.
Visit islamicart.mfah.org for more on the collection.
Arts of Islamic Lands: Selections from The al-Sabah Collection
January 26, 2013–December 11, 2014
January 31, 2015–January 30, 2016
Masterworks of art from the Islamic world come to Houston through the Museum's landmark partnership with the Kuwait-based al-Sabah Collection and the cultural institution Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI).
Arts of the Islamic World: Past Exhibitions
Members of this group help the MFAH promote the cultural and artistic traditions of the Islamic world while enjoying exciting benefits, including lectures by leading experts and collectors, private events, guided tours of exhibitions, and exclusive travel opportunities. At the annual dinner, members vote on how to spend the funds raised by Friends of the Arts of the Islamic World.