The city of London is overflowing with culture, religious diversity, and museums. Last week our program visited the British Museum, which has an exquisite array of art collections, ranging from the early Romans, to the Egyptians, Islamic art, and essentially an art historians dream. The Islamic art collection was composed of religious artifacts such as written scriptures or sculptures, and also secular objects such as beautiful ceramic tiles and vases. Islamic art is defined as produced by the regions, usually associated with the Middle East, where Islam was the predominating religion. I was not sure what to expect when entering the gallery, and I was stunned by all the beautiful blue and green hues, as well as the elegant Arabic calligraphy. This particular exhibit was not solely limited to art directly related to Islamic scriptures, but it also contained secular objects in order to give a whole perspective of the art produced from different regions in the Middle East. Some of the secular artifacts were beautifully painted tiles adorned with flowers and leaves, all in dark blues, greens, and turquoise colors. Even though it was not directly connected to a religious script, it still showed some central themes of Islamic artwork such as the use of leaves, scrolls, and flowers. One of the other interesting pieces that was influenced by Islam was a large rectangular drawing on the wall, all in black and white. From afar this just looked like a picture with lines drawn everywhere with no distinct pattern. Upon further investigation, all the shapes had a geometric purpose and had been placed based on mathematical equations. The use of geometric designs such as triangles, squares, and circles are another key theme in Islamic art.
This exhibit had other art pieces that had a more strictly religious background such as scriptures from the Qur’an, tombstones, and elegant Arabic calligraphy on tiles and vases. One of the beautiful pieces that caught my eye was the Ceramic tombstone of Jalal al-Din Abd al-Malik, dated to about AD 1270. The rounded contours and palace-like drawings are dazzling. Upon further inspection, the dark royal blue Arabic calligraphy comes to the forefront, and the true beauty of this artwork can be truly experienced. Islamic art has a way of drawing an observer in with the calming hues, the contours of the leaves, and by the delicate brush strokes of the Arabic calligraphy. The calligraphy is a central component of spreading, preaching, and continuing the meaning of Islamic religion. It was used to examine and teach quotes from the Qur’an and the words of Allah in order to shape the religion as it is known today. Word of mouth is an effective way to preserve religions, but artifacts such as pottery, tombstones, and tiles, can last over centuries and can carry on such teachings for future generations. The gallery gave a small preview to the public of the style of Islamic art and how religion played a central role in influencing much of the artifacts produced from that region over time.