Muslim Artist's Exhibit Spurs Death Threats, Violence at London Gallery

Friday, October 31, 2008

London – (AP) Muslim artist, Sarah Maple has been criticized in the past for how she depicts her religion in her work, but her latest exhibition in London has triggered a new wave of intimidation, death threats and even violence.

Since putting the 23-year-old’s exhibit on display on Oct. 16, SaLon gallery in Notting Hill has received a string of violent emails and phone calls about the artist and her family, according to the British Broadcasting Company.

Maple’s exhibit is filled with controversial self-portraits of the artist wearing a headscarf posing in provocative ways, the BBC reported. In one painting she also bares a breast.

But gallery owners believe it was a painting of the artist in a headscarf holding a pig that triggered the violence, according to the BBC.

Ejaz Aslam of the Muslim Cultural Center told the BBC, the contrast of those two images is “highly offensive” to Muslims.

Maple told the network, “I just want to make valid points about East and West cultures and whether we can combine the two successfully.”

The gallery itself was also targeted when woman wearing a burka threatened gallery workers earlier this week, and again when the glass front of the gallery was smashed on Tuesday, the London Telegraph reported. SaLon has since enlisted 24-hour police protection.

The gallery plans to keep the exhibit until its scheduled end on Nov. 16, the BBC reported.


Islamic art exhibit offers context for world events

Textiles a glimpse into daily life

By Robert Lewis

The Journal-Standard

Several pieces of textile and a bronze coffee set might not stop a war, but they may offer a glimpse into an often misunderstood society and religion and provide a context in which to view world events.

"Museums in general have always been one to not only respond to what goes on in the world, but also stimulate discourse," said Jessica Caddell, the collections manager at the Freeport Arts Center.

The museum is currently displaying an exhibit of Islamic art - a collection of textiles, the coffee set and decorative ceramic tiles. While the exhibit is relatively small, it does provide a snapshot of Muslim life.

"It works especially well with a culture we are struggling to understand," Caddell said. "So even if we have trouble understanding beliefs, we can at least appreciate their creative endeavors."

The exhibit includes among other items a large regal looking orange dress from Bahrain, a 19th-century prayer kilim from nomadic people of Turkey and ceramic architectural tiles from the city of Iznik.

Many people are unfamiliar with Islamic art and culture beyond the brief glimpses they see on television, said Linda Vietmeyer. a local artist and museum assistant.

"You can read something and see it on TV, but until it's right in front of you it's not real," Vietmeyer said, adding the purpose of the exhibit is "to expose people to it so they can enjoy the uniqueness of the art."

Islamic art avoids representation of the human figure and instead uses rich geometric designs and often stylized nature imagery, Caddell said. Textiles, the main focus of the exhibit, are a unique form, she added.

"Textiles is a medium that breaks down the barrier between art and craft," Caddell said. "We tend to look at it as common, not fine, art."

Closer examination, however, shows complex artistic expression. Because textiles are often functional in nature - made to be worn - they highlight day-to-day life, rituals and ceremony more than other media, such as paintings or sculpture.

Caddell hoped school groups could view the exhibit along with the museum's collection of ancient Mesopotamian art when their classes study the area.

The exhibit will be on display until October.

"Hopefully it will spark some curiosity," Caddell said.


London museum pulls religious art

By Al Webb
The Washington Times

Published September 29, 2005

The Tate Britain museum has made an unprecedented decision to pull a work of religious art from an exhibition over fears that it might offend Muslims.
    Artist John Latham's "God is Great" features copies of the Koran, Bible and Judaic Talmud that have been cut apart and embedded in thick glass.
    "We believe the particular circumstances we find ourselves in post-7 July make it difficult for this work to be viewed as the artist had intended -- as a commentary on the evolution of religious thought from an original state of nothingness -- but instead as an overtly political act," a Tate spokeswoman told The Washington Times.
    The July 7 suicide bombings killed 52 passengers on three subway trains and a bus.
    Mr. Latham, an 84-year-old British artist who first came to note as a member of what critics have called London's "1960s artistic avant garde," was furious at the decision.
    "Tate Britain have shown cowardice over this," Mr. Latham told the Observer newspaper.
    "I think it's a daft thing to do because, if they want to help the militants, this is the way to do it.
    "It's not even a gesture as strong as censorship. It's just a loss of nerve on the part of the administration."
    The case marked the latest in a series of disputes in Europe over religion in the arts, including rioting by Sikhs protesting a play in Birmingham, England, and the assassination of a Dutch filmmaker over a 10-minute movie that some Muslims deemed anti-Islamic.
    "As far as I'm aware," the Tate spokeswoman said, this marked the first time the museum had dropped an exhibit over religious concerns.
    If a similar problem arose again, "we would judge things on a case-by-case basis," she said.
    In other brushes with controversy, Mr. Latham presented a work that involved burning copies of an encyclopedia, and another in which he chewed up a volume of art criticism.
    Unease in the art world, which on occasion has spilled over into violence, appears on the upswing in Europe.
    Late last year, about 400 Sikh demonstrators stormed the Birmingham Repertory Theater in the Midlands and forced it to cancel a play, "Behzti," that depicted rape and killing in a Sikh temple. The play's author, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, fled into hiding. In the Netherlands, filmmaker Theo van Gogh was fatally shot and his body mutilated by a Dutch-born Muslim terrorist. His film, titled "Submission," featured women in see-through Islamic robes that revealed their breasts.
    In Britain earlier this year, Christian groups as well as thousands of viewers complained to the British Broadcasting Corp. for televising "Jerry Springer -- the Opera," a musical that is loaded with swearwords and depicts Jesus wearing diapers.
    Tate Britain said it planned to hold a discussion at its London premises on Nov. 8 in which "a panel of leading figures on art, ethics and religion will debate art's claim to cultural independence."
    The Muslim Council of Britain told the BBC that "we have not received any complaints about" Mr. Latham's piece and that "we would have preferred to have been consulted by Tate Britain before the decision was taken to remove" it.
    "Sometimes, presumptions are incorrectly made about what is acceptable to Muslims, and this can be counterproductive," the group said.


Islamic arts depict true Islam: Orientalist

Sunday, December 18, 2005 - ©2005

LONDON, December 18 (IranMania) - Holding Islamic art exhibitions and displaying examples of verses of the Holy Quran written on the walls and ceilings of mosques would help to promote Islam in the West, the director of the Department of Arabic and Semitic Studies of Budapest University said.

We can familiarize non-Muslims with the religion by introducing them to Islamic culture and arts in an attempt to change their attitudes toward Muslims, Orientalist Sandor Fodor added, according to MNA.

He believes that Islamic civilization is far superior to Western civilization. 

Europeans were taught by Muslim savants in various fields, including medicine, astronomy, and philosophy, in the Middle Ages, he stated.

Those attacking Islam in the West are not only ignorant of the religion but also do not know much about their own religion and culture, he maintained.

He elaborated on the guidelines of teaching Islamic culture at Budapest University, saying that several studies have been conducted on the changes the Arabic language has undergone since the advent of Islam to the present time, as well as in the pre-Islamic era.

We also teach the history of Islam along with everything related to the Arab and Islamic civilization, he added.       

Commenting on the fact that some elements are trying to create the impression that there is a connection between Islam and terrorism, he said that these are wrong ideas propagated by the mass media in the West and added that their main problem is ignorance.

He referred to some verses of the Holy Quran, saying that the Holy Book acknowledges the multiplicity of religions and therefore recommends Islam as the foundation for all of them.

Islam should become universal; hence Muslims should try to promote the religion based on genuine information, not only among Muslims and in Islamic countries, but also throughout the globe, he said in conclusion.



Show and tell
A top-flight art museum planned in Abu Dhabi could educate Muslims and non-Muslims who never walk through its doors.

The United Arab Emirates and Qatar are sometimes dubbed the Monaco and Lichtenstein of the Middle East. All have small populations, outsize bank accounts and less hidebound national identities than do many of their neighbors. In the U.A.E., those freedoms have now made possible a daring project. As reported recently in the Times of London, Abu Dhabi officials penned a deal creating the first world-class art museum in the Middle East. The ripples might lap far beyond the art world.

The new museum is first, of course, a boon for the U.A.E. Its leaders have realized they need to diversify their economy, which relies on about 9.2 percent of the world's proven oil reserves — but won't do so forever. To design the museum, the country's tourism authorities hired architect Frank Gehry, whose Guggenheim in Bilbao is considered his masterpiece. The U.A.E asked Gehry to rush the design in four months so they can finish building five years from now.

Once completed, the museum will showcase pieces from the Guggen- heim's permanent collection, plus new acquisitions bought with more than $10 million from Abu Dhabi's government. Gehry told the Times he hopes to create something truly original that nevertheless harmonizes with its physical environment. Guggenheim Director Thomas Krebs, meanwhile, has said traveling exhibitions might be tweaked to respect local tradition — for example, nude figures might be removed — but such alterations would be rare.

The proof will be in the exhibits. But Abu Dhabi's very process of blending the Islamic spirit of modesty with individualistic, secular contributions from the West will be edifying to watch. "This demonstrates a progressive and positive outlook from an Islamic country, in a part of the world in which others are saying is engaged in a war of civilizations with the West," notes Phil Wilcox, founder of the nonprofit Foundation for Middle East Peace. "I think it is encouraging that a traditional Arab emirate wants to expose its people to a stunning work of modern architecture which will doubtless include Western art."

Not that cross-culturalism is a new idea in Islamic art. India's Taj Mahal, constructed by a Muslim emperor, blends both Muslim and Hindu architectural motifs. Even the representation of human figures is found in Muslim art, including 15th century Iranian palace paintings of nude women. That Gehry and the Guggenheim family are Jewish recalls Islam's intellectually expansive past.

Will exposure to art treasures in a fabulous new space dull the hate many Muslims feel toward all things Western? Of course not, especially since the poverty and isolation fueling that hate guarantees that most Muslims will never see the place.

But surely some may hear of it: the most spectacular, costly art museum on earth, proudly built on Arab ground. Surely images from Guggenheim shows by Muslim artists will appear in newspapers. Middle Eastern artists who could never pay for a flight to Abu Dhabi can aspire to the museum's standards. Even the most extremist TV station might show footage of the world's elite admiring the Middle East's great arts center. The world's imaginative heritage, the new Guggenheim declares, belongs to Muslims, too. Even glimpsing the museum and its art from far away, more Muslims might decide to claim it (with bombs).


Revisiting Islamic art in the West
By Vincent Dowd
BBC World Service arts correspondent

July 21, 2006

Britain's national museum of design, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, has opened a new showcase for its huge collection of Islamic art.

The Jameel Gallery has been paid for in part by a wealthy Saudi business family.

When the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) opened in 1852 it was meant to improve standards of commercial design in Britain.

From the outset it turned its eye to Islam - the Victorians realized they had a lot to learn from Middle Eastern traditions of ornament, especially in carpets and ceramics. And over the years the V&A has accumulated more than 10,000 artefacts representing Muslim culture.

Now it has massively improved the way it displays the collection's highlights, thanks largely to £5.4m from the wealthy Saudi Arabian Jameel family.

Contentious term

The Jameels are a well-known business dynasty in Saudi Arabia, with varied interests including a long-established relationship with the Japanese car-makers Toyota.

The Jameel Gallery will be permanent home to around 400 objects, from paintings and vases to gorgeous items of clothing.

In one big, high-ceilinged space you can admire anything from a huge wooden minbar - or pulpit - made in the 1470s or 1480s for an Egyptian mosque to a little tile-top table fashioned in Turkey a century later.

The table is the personal favorite of the man in charge of the new gallery, the V&A's Tim Stanley.

Mr. Stanley acknowledges the very term "Islamic art" can be contentious.

Outside strictly devotional contexts, after all, you don't often encounter the label "Christian art".

"Most people will expect the Jameel Gallery to show the art of Islam as a religion," he said.

"In fact Islam is different from other religions because in founding it Muhammad also founded a political system.” (Note: there is no separation of religion and state in Islam)

"Those who came afterwards took Islamic power all the way from Spain and Morocco in the West to the banks of the Indus in the East. So this gallery shows the art of that Islamic empire and its successor states rather than of Islam as a faith."

Western influence

At the exhibition's centre is an enormous 16th century carpet which it is thought was commissioned by Shah Tahmasp for the shrine at Ardabil, now in north-west Iran.

The carpet, measuring 10m x 5m, is so delicate it can be illuminated only intermittently to protect its colors.

It makes a wonderful focus for the gallery and every 30 minutes when the lights come up museum visitors stand outside its glass cage to admire this, the oldest dated carpet in any museum. It is inscribed 946 in the Muslim calendar (1539-40 AD).

Among the smaller treasures are a lusterware bowl from the Malaga of the early 1400s and a rock-crystal jug made 1,000 years ago in Egypt for the treasury of the Fatimid caliphs.

More recent and perhaps more surprising are four 19th century oil paintings of scenes from the Tehran court of Fath Ali Shah - these provide a rare example in the gallery of the depiction of the human form. (Note: Muhammad cursed anyone who made pictures of people)

The paintings show the influence of Western artists - one of the Jameel's great delights is examining the way Western and Islamic cultures have interacted. (Note: Art showing humans is strictly Western and is not Islamic in origin)

Model civilization

Tim Stanley acknowledges that in a broad sense there is a political impulse behind the new venture.

"It's very important at the moment that people get a balanced view of the great Islamic civilization of the medieval and early modern periods to see what a wonderful civilization it was. (Note: Outside of carpets, vases, and mosaics there is little to represent Islamic art)

"We hope people will see that the Islamic civilization of the past was very self-confident and open to the outside world. I think that's a model for us all," he said.

But even if you don't care about the politics, the new Jameel Gallery can be enjoyed simply for the many beautiful things it contains.



Volume 3, Book 34, Number 299:

Narrated 'Aun bin Abu Juhaifa:

My father bought a slave who practiced the profession of cupping. (My father broke the slave's instruments of cupping). I asked my father why he had done so. He replied, "The Prophet forbade the acceptance of the price of a dog or blood, and also forbade the profession of tattooing, getting tattooed and receiving or giving Riba, (usury), and cursed the picture-makers."