Islamic Art : Past and Present Coalesce

Shradha Ramesh shares a note on the current exhibition at Gallery L8, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
New York: “Echoes: Islamic art and Contemporary Artists” resonates an epoch of Islamic art and culture from across the globe, dating from 9th century to 21st century. The works on display are a visual diary of Islamic art through time and geography. A narration tracing from Nelson Atkins 17th century mosaic Persian arch, being juxtaposed with variegate Islamic inspired contemporary art. The Director of the Nelson-Atkins, Julián Zugazagoitia, during the press release said “This exhibition highlights some of the outstanding works in our collection that have not been seen in a long time,”
The geographic chronology of Islamic art and architecture ranges from west to east. The region of influence starts from North Africa and Spain on Western region; then the Middle East (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula), Anatolia and the Balkans (Turkey and Southeast Europe), Iran and Central Asia (including Afghanistan and the Central Asia Republics) and eventually the Indian subcontinent.

Bowl, Iran, late 12th–early 13th century. Fritware with opaque turquoise glaze and over-painted decoration. 35-31/4

Image Credit: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Bowl, Iran, late 12th–early 13th century. Fritware with opaque turquoise glaze and over-painted decoration. 35-31/4

The Contemporary artists represented at the exhibition are primarily from Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Though they are from these regions they work and live in different parts of the world, adding to the diverse Islamic impression. The artists represented are Shirin Neshat, Asheer Akram , and Hayv Kahraman and Shahzia Sikander live and work from United States. The others work from their respective native land Hamra Abbas (Pakistani), Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabian), Nasser Al Salem(Saudi Arabian), Gohar Dashti (Iranian) , Ayesha Jatoi(Pakistani), Nasreen Mohamedi (Indian), Rashid Rana (Pakistani). Given their background and the vast medium on display one gets transported to a different visual space.

Shirin Neshat, Iranian, b. 1957. Stories of Martydom , 1994. Black and white RC print and ink

Image Credit: Eye Burfi
Shirin Neshat, Iranian, b. 1957. Stories of Martydom , 1994. Black and white RC print and ink

The common visual ground, upon which the exhibit traverses are the geometric or vegetative design with intricate details and patterns of Arabic calligraphy, rendered in rich colors and forms in an anomalous vista.  Kimberly Masteller, the first Jeanne McCray Beals Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, explains the concept behind the exhibit “The overarching theme here is dialogue,…We use the installation and the artists’ interviews to invoke conversations between the works and their cultures, and also between past and present.”

The 28 featured art works include ceramics, textiles, miniature paintings, decorative brass, photographs and video art. The magnum opus is a Pakistani Cargo Truck Initiative at the entrance made by artist Asheer Akram, from Kansas City.

 Asheer Akram "Pakistani Cargo Truck Initiative"

Image Credit: The Kansas City Star Magazine
Asheer Akram’s “Pakistani Cargo Truck Initiative”

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art began was started in late 1800 and early 1900 by two ardent art lovers, William Rockhill Nelson and Mary Atkins as two separate art museum. Both the museum merged to form the Nelson-Atkins. “Echoes” is joint venture by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kansas City Artists Coalition, and the Kansas City Public Library. The exhibit runs until March 30, 2014 at the museum’s Gallery L8.

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