Islamic Art Scholar Introduced MOA’s Largest Exhibition


The Museum of Art is having a cultural feast. Last year it hosted the prestigious Christian paintings of Carl Bloch; this year it is presenting an invaluable Islamic art exhibit, the largest it has ever organized.

Sabiha Al Khemir, project director of Beauty and Belief and Islamic art scholar, gave an introductory lecture at the Harold B. Lee library auditorium on Feb. 23, the day before the public opening of the exhibit.

Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture is going to be yours for the next seven months,” Khemir said. “And I have a feeling it’s going to be yours for much longer than that, because it is going to stay in your heart.”

The lecture accompanied a slide show of Islamic art pieces, because Khemir said he wanted to give the audience the feeling of the exhibition, a sense of crossing worlds.

A picture of an ancient Islamic scroll, which says God, the creator of all things has no beginning and no end, began the parade of Islamic beauty showcasing different themes: word, figure, pattern and rhythm. From a chipped beggar’s bowl to an exquisite table cloth, nearly every piece was adorned with Arabic script.

When a piece of pure gold jewelry from Turkey appeared on the screen, exclamations of amazement burst from the audience at its intricate design. It was woven with the words, ‘The best people are those who do good for others.’

“You don’t have to speak to Arabic, because Arabic is speaking to you now,” said Khemir, finishing up the presentation. She explained how words in Islamic arts come out of the boundary of object and become part of life.

Heather Evans, a BYU senior majoring in studio art, attended the lecture because she thought it was important to get out of a comfort zone and experience things she usually wouldn’t have access to.

“I loved the ‘Allah creator of all’ symbol that she showed us at the beginning,” Evans said, “I thought that was amazing because there were thick lines and thin lines but you could tell that it was just one pen that made the entire mark and I thought it was really beautiful.”

There were visitors from outside of the states as well, including a Moroccan ambassador. Abdulkareem al-Ghadban, director at the Kuwait Museum of Islamic Art, said the lecture related well the artistry of Islam to the interests of American college students. The Kuwait museum is one of the largest lenders to the exhibit, with 40 Islamic art pieces.

“What she wants is to make a dialogue between different cultures and different religions,” he said. “She wanted to add another dimension to [the exhibit], which is a feeling of mystery. I think that it makes you want to go on and discover.”

James Melikian, a collector of old religious text from Phoenix, lent seven pieces of Islamic arts to the exhibit, including two Chinese Korans. He said it was his first time meeting her and he was impressed how she talked not only as a scholar but also as an artist.

“[The exhibit] shows that there’s much more to the Islamic world than the fundamentalism they see now rampant in it,” he said.  “Islam for many centuries was more advanced than the West in science and culture. So what [people from Western culture] are seeing now is not a representation of historic Islam and history and it’s probably not a representation of the majority of practicing Muslims. So it opens their eyes that Islam has not always been like it is now and it could change in the future.”


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