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Arts of Africa

At the MFAH, art from the diverse continent of Africa spans ancient to contemporary times and includes the world's most significant collection of gold objects: the Glassell Collection of African Gold.

Possibly Nigeria
Prayer Manual
Early 20th century
Ink and colors on paper

9 x 7 1/4 x 3/4 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase with funds provided by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund

Arts of Africa

This charming prayer book displays an interesting fusion of indigenous and Islamic traditions. The Arabic style in which it is written is a variation of the Maghribi script, the preferred script of North African Qur'ans--the holy book of Islam.

The internal division of the text and marginal decorations, which mark specific lessons and passages, also imitate the illuminations that decorate the early Qur'anic texts produced in North Africa. Yet the vibrant colors that inflate the calligraphy and turn the lines into lively decorative bands evoke contemporary Central African textiles.

Following the trade routes connecting North Africa to the Sahel (the region of Africa south of the Sahara Desert), Islam began to spread across the African continent as early as the 9th century. But it was not until the 20th century that Islam began to markedly replace traditional cults and impact the local artistic production.