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.
Arts of Islamic Lands: Selections from The al-Sabah Collection
January 26, 2013–January 26, 2014
Islamic masterworks from Kuwait’s renowned al-Sabah Collection come to the MFAH as part of a long-term collaboration with the cultural institution Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI). The privately held al-Sabah Collection is one of the greatest collections of Islamic art in the world, and the partnership initiates a historic exchange of objects, staff, and expertise. This exhibition marks the first in a renewable, five-year agreement that enables the MFAH to present the glorious achievement of Islamic visual culture in a comprehensive display. Among the highlights are spectacular Mughal jewelry, illuminated manuscripts, exquisite ceramics, and intricately decorated ceiling panels. More than 60 examples from the 8th to 18th centuries are on view, made in the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. The collection also includes carpets, glass and metalwork, paintings, architectural fragments, scientific instruments, and works on paper.
Colors of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats
February 23–May 11, 2014
Showcasing 55 robes and textiles from the prestigious collection of Murad Megalli, which was donated in 2005 to the Textile Museum in Washington, DC, this exhibition brings to Houston for the first time the Central Asian tradition of ikat textiles. The colorful, patterned textiles explore the artistic value of these works, the complex nature of their techniques, and the social and economic roles of the artisans responsible for their production.
Arts of the Islamic World: Past Exhibitions
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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.