Visit to Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia – 16 May 2019

by Lam Lai Meng

The MV Focus Team organised a visit to the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) on Thursday 16 May 2019 for around 20 MVs. For many MVs, it was their first time at the IAM. What a fascinating visit it turned out to be. A tour of two hours was definitely not long enough to fully appreciate and absorb the beauty of the artefacts on display. IAM curator En Zulkifli and his team (Hariz, Dalia and Amin) showed us around the special exhibition on Qajar Ceramics and the main galleries.

At the end of the tour, organiser Mona Tan presented the book “The Chitties of Melaka” authored by Karen Loh and Jega (our very own MVs) to En Zulkifli.

Arabesque Design

En Zulkifli explained to us what arabesque design is all about. Arabesque is a style of decoration characterised by intertwining plants and abstract curvilinear motifs. The ‘circular’ intertwining arrangement of the motifs signifies something that has no beginning and has no end. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, arabesque was originally derived from Hellenistic craftsmen working in Asia Minor, and originally included birds in their natural setting. This style of decoration became highly formalised when Muslim artisans adapted this form around 1000 CE. The arabesque became a very essential part of the decorative tradition in Islamic cultures. While there is widespread understanding that for religious reasons, no birds, beasts nor human figurines are allowed, representations of Islamic religious figures are found in some manuscripts from cultures such as Ottoman Turkey and Mughal India. These pictures were meant to illustrate the story and not to infringe on the Islamic prohibition of idolatry, but many Muslims regard such images as forbidden. In secular art of the Muslim world, representations of human and animal forms historically flourished in nearly all Islamic cultures, although, partly because of opposing religious sentiments, figures in paintings were often stylized, giving rise to a variety of decorative figural designs.

Qajar Ceramics : Bridging Tradition and Modernity

This special exhibition is on from 21 March 2019 – 31 December 2019. The exhibition features Qadari ceramics from Iran, from the 19th to early 20th century. The Qadari dynasty saw seven Shahs ruling in the northern part of Iran (then Persia). The Qajari era saw a lot of contact with European countries, and Qajari paintings of this period exhibit some European influences. The colour blue features prominently in Qajari ceramics. Qajari ceramics are very densely decorated with figurative images of humans, fauna and flora.

The IAM – Southeast Asia’s largest museum of Islamic Art

It has 12 spacious, well lit, comfortable main galleries:

  • Architecture
  • Qur’an and Manuscript
  • India
  • China
  • Malay World
  • Jewellery
  • Textile
  • Living With Wood
  • Arms & Armour
  • Coin & Seal
  • Metalwork
  • Ceramics

Architecture Gallery

This gallery features the diverse architecture of famous mosques and mausoleums from the Islamic world. Visitors are able to see scale models of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the mud mosque in Timbuktu, the Alhambra in Granada, the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Kampung Laut Mosque in Kelantan (wooden mosque built without using nails), and many more. From these designs, it was obvious that domes are not an essential part of the architecture of mosques. En Zulkifli explained that domes were introduced more for acoustic effects in the ages before the advent of sound systems.

Whilst touring the Architecture Gallery, Lai Meng informed En Zukiflee about a unique little mosque found in Padang Rengas, Perak.  It was built in 1936 and is the only mosque in the country made of wood and woven bamboo.The colours of the woven panels were in black, yellow and white, reflecting the colours of the Perak flag. It was in use until 1976 when it fell into disrepair. The National Heritage Department restored it in 2008 and in 2017 it was turned into a gallery called Galeri Masjid Ihsaniah Iskandariah. A picture of this mosque is below.

Qur’an & Manuscript Gallery

This gallery highlights the development and emergence of different Arabic script styles.

India Gallery

The Mughal era (1526 – 1828) is considered as the most brilliant period of Islamic art in India. Many features of Mughal art diverged from mainstream Islamic art with figural representations and production of detailed miniature paintings.  The Mughal era saw the Islamic tradition of metalworking taken to extreme levels of opulence. Gilded silver, brass, enamels and jewel-inlaid gold were commonly used for objects used in the royal court.

China Gallery

This gallery displays many ceramic artefacts, which reveal Muslim influence. Traditionally, calligraphy did not play an important part in Chinese ceramics. However, Arabic Islamic calligraphy made a significant appearance in blue and white ceramics during the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) inscribed on ceramic ware and scroll paintings.

Malay World Gallery

Subjects of Islamic expression were found in stylised plants, fruits and clouds and in a variety of media such as textiles, paintings and objects.

Textile Gallery

Textiles in the Islamic world were objects that portrayed status, wealth and religious allegiance. The richness of these textiles were much sought after beyond the borders of the Islamic empires.  Expertise in the production of textiles shifted from Arabia to the eastern end of Islam, to countries like India where the Mughals were responsible for some of the greatest advances in textile production. Textiles were used for decorative and sartorial purposes.

Arms & Armour Gallery

This gallery displays many types of weapons used in Islamic countries, mainly swords and daggers with beautifully carved or etched hilts and scabbards. The swords usually bore the name of its maker as a brand. These beautifully decorated weapons were usually used for ceremonial occasions by Islamic leaders of the era.

Jewellery Gallery

The Islamic lands produced some of the most magnificent and finest jewellery  in the world. Islamic jewellery falls into two broad groupings – the exclusive and the ethnic (among tribal groups). Lavish and opulent use was made of gold and gem stones. The Mughal period in India was an era of opulent jewellery designs.

Coin & Seal Gallery

Islamic coins were highly calligraphic with religious inscriptions. Portraiture was eventually removed in most parts of the Islamic world in keeping with religious teachings. The IAM has a wide-ranging collection of seals that date back several centuries. These seals were used for official or personal purposes.

Metalwork Gallery

Craftsmen of the Islamic world were experts in metalwork, creating beautiful a vessels in base alloys like brass and bronze. Vessels of gold are almost non-existent due to religious disapproval and destruction due to political upheavals and economic crisis. The craftsmen were exceptionally skilled in metalwork with exquisite inlays of precious metals like gold, silver and copper. Iran from the 9th and 10th century onwards became the leader in metalwork with intricate inlays. The art of metalwork with inlays spread to countries like Syria, Egypt and China. In China, copper alloys were supplemented by cloisonne.

Living with Wood Gallery

Islamic craftsmen also excelled in woodworking. Crafts of wood exhibited intricate carvings and were often inlaid with precious materials like mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell and ivory.

Ceramics Gallery

Ceramics were an outstanding component of Islamic art. Influences came from many directions, particularly China, but each Muslim region stamped its own identity on the wares produced. Islamic ceramics have in turn influenced ceramics produced in Europe.

Author: Museum Volunteers, JMM

Museum Volunteers, JMM Taking the Mystery out of History

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