Middlebury hosts 1,400 years of art and Islam

MIDDLEBURY — Since mid-September the Middlebury College Museum of Art has been showcasing the history and breadth of Islamic art in a landmark exhibit on loan from the Newark Museum. The more than 100 works on display in “Wondrous Worlds: Art and Islam through Time and Place” reflect aspects of faith, culture and everyday life of Muslims across the world and throughout the ages.
The exhibition runs through Dec. 1, and features works in nearly all media, including carpets, costumes, jewelry, ceramics, glassware, metalworks, prints, paintings and photographs. Contemporary works from artists such as Rachid Koraichi and Victor Ekpuk, and modern day calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy will be shown with pieces dating back to the 9th-century. Highlights range from dazzling lustrewares of Iran and Spain to delicate prayer rugs from Turkey and India, as well as Harem #1 from the bi-national Moroccan-American photographer Lalla Essaydi and a majestic pair of early-20th-century Egyptian appliqué tent hangings — measuring 10 feet high and 6 feet wide — that were acquired in Egypt in 1929 by John Cotton Dana, the Newark Museum’s founding director and museum education pioneer.
“John Cotton Dana focused on making relevant connections between objects and people’s lives, while providing inspiration to artists, artisans and makers across disciplines,” said Steven Kern, Newark Museum Director and CEO. “Through this exhibition, audiences will gain a more nuanced understanding and appreciation for Islamic art along with other multi-cultural art forms they may encounter in the future.”
The exhibition features a world map populated with select items that demonstrate the intercontinental reach of the Dar al-Islam or Islamic World — touching all continents except Antarctica.
“Most Islamic art exhibitions focus on works from the Middle East, North Africa or South Asia, but this exhibition includes a much larger scope,” said Dr. Katherine Anne Paul, Curator of the Arts of Asia at the Newark Museum and lead curator of the exhibition. “We showcase works from Southeast Asia, the Americas as well as East and West Africa.”
“Wondrous Worlds” opens with an introduction to the Five Pillars of Islam: declaration of faith, daily prayers, charity, fasting for Ramadan, and the Hajj Pilgrimage. These provide context and a distinctive view into the function, artistry and cultural histories of the objects in the exhibit.
The exhibition then expands upon five themes:
“Then and Now” highlights the long history of inter-continental trade and the role that the Hajj pilgrimage plays in promoting international interconnections. The trade of Turkish textiles to Morocco, English and Dutch textiles inspired by Indonesian prints that were exported to Africa, as well as ceramics traded between China, Iran and Turkey are featured in this section.
Book Arts
“Quran, Calligraphy and Book Arts” delves into the power of the written word, not only through the Quran but also through histories and poetry written in diverse scripts representing different languages including Arabic, Farsi, Nsibidi, Turkish and Urdu.
“Fasting, Feasting, and Fun” celebrates the domesticated arts. A mise-en-scene installation of a Moroccan feast boasts a Rabat carpet, leather cushions, wooden screen and metal table settings. Glorious ceramics, paintings and musical instruments from other regions are also included.
“Architecture and Its Offspring” glories in architectural legacies displayed in carpets, printed textiles, furniture, tile-works and historic and contemporary photographs of India and Morocco.
SONDOUQ BRIDAL CHEST with Architectural and Floral Motifs. Morocco, 20th century. Wood, colors; H: 27 inches, W: 55 inches, D: 16 1/2 inches. Newark Museum. Purchase, 1978, 78.15.
Body Beautiful
“Costumes, Fashion, and Faith” positions silk, velvet, and sequined costumes and textiles alongside fabulous jewelry fashioned from diamonds, pearls, emeralds, jade, gold and silver.
Come see this diverse and expansive exhibit at the Middlebury College Museum of Art, located in the Mahaney Center for the Arts building. The museum is free and open to the public Tuesday through Friday, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, from 12-5 p.m. Closed Mondays. For more info call (802) 443–5007 or visit museum.middlebury.edu.

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