BYU’s Museum of Art is switching gears from Christian-themed exhibits to exploring the relationship between cultures with a new collection of Islamic art.
The exhibit, “Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture,” hosted and created at BYU, will premiere at the university before traveling to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Newark Museum and the Portland Art Museum. It will showcase more than 250 objects from various lenders in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, including some pieces never before featured in the U.S.
The exhibit is “the first of its kind” at BYU, according to Yvette Arts, MOA assistant to the dean — external relations.
The pieces in the collections diverge from traditional works featured at the MOA, but instead of trepidation, the museum is excited for this change of pace, Arts said.
“BYU invited [the exhibit]; they wanted to have this kind of experience,” she said.
Sabiha Al Khemir, project director of the exhibition, was born in Tunisia and studied in Tunis and London. She has created novels, documentaries and exhibits — including one featured at the Louvre — and was the founding director of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.
Al Khemir crossed paths with BYU in 2008 when she toured to launch her historical novel “The Blue Manuscript” and stopped at BYU for a lecture.
“People were so nice and warm and receptive,” Al Khemir said. “There was interest in doing an exhibition of Islamic art. A small exhibition of Islamic art, but the exhibition grew and grew.”
And grow it did. The MOA now expects the exhibition to span the entire main floor of the museum, and Al Khemir’s vision is just as large.
[pullquote]”I hope that people, as much as they see this culture as different, also find many parallels in their own culture, in their own belief,”[/pullquote]
“The exhibition was born here with the same spirit of wanting to talk about Islamic culture,” Al Khemir said. “For me, it’s really a gift to the United States because I feel there has been so much distortion of this so-called Islamic culture. When you have lived in a culture that has given you many wonderful, beautiful things, you are a witness and you have the responsibility to share that with the world.”
Standing as a witness is not something unfamiliar to the MOA’s predominantly Latter-day Saint community, and Al Khemir hopes visitors will take note of other similarities between the cultures.
“I hope that people, as much as they see this culture as different, also find many parallels in their own culture, in their own belief,” she said. “[I hope] they are going to feel at home with the other [culture]. To feel at home with the other is the first step to acceptance of each other.”
Mark Magleby, museum director at the MOA, also agreed this exhibition will help cultures connect through bridging, a common theme of the exhibition.
“Sabiha’s bridge is an optimistic interconnection of cultures across the span or crevasse of East to West,” he said in an interview posted on the “Beauty and Belief” YouTube channel.
Magleby said he thinks such connections offer a unique opportunity to overcome something visitors might have struggled with on their own.
“When you build a bridge, it’s not like you can’t pass through a deep river-valley,” he said. “But it’s so oft-times impossible with any kind of efficiency or carrying any kind of burden to do it, that it’s only when there’s a bridge that you [cross] it. What Sabiha has done is to make it easier to cross that crevasse.”
The exhibition will run Feb. 24 through Sept. 29. For more information visit beautyandbelief.byu.edu.