Islamic Art Collection Spanning Fourteen Centuries Debuts at Nashville’s Frist Center
Ink, Silk, and Gold: Islamic Art from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston October 9, 2015–January 10, 2016
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (August 6, 2015)—This fall the Frist Center for the Visual Arts presents Ink, Silk, and Gold: Islamic Art from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, a dazzling display of the museum’s finest examples of Islamic art, which it has been collecting for more than 130 years. The exhibition spans chronologically from the eighth century to the present and geographically from Spain to Indonesia. Ink, Silk, and Gold will be on view at the Frist Center—its first stop on a highly anticipated tour—from October 9, 2015, through January 10, 2016, and is the Frist Center’s first survey of Islamic art. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue written by an international team of scholars and marks the first time that highlights from the MFA Boston’s collection have been comprehensively studied, restored and presented to the public.
The exhibition consists of nearly 100 objects, including Islamic manuscripts, brocaded velvets, gilded glass, luster-painted ceramics, monumental carpets and silver inlaid metalwork. “Ink, Silk, and Gold takes us on a spectacular journey through the Islamic world and serves as an excellent introduction to the history of Islamic art,” says Frist Center Curator Trinita Kennedy. “We have an exciting opportunity to open doors for visitors unfamiliar with the splendor of Islamic artistic traditions, and I hope that our local Muslim community will take pride in seeing these extraordinary works on display in our galleries.”
Organized chronologically and regionally, Ink, Silk, and Gold introduces visitors to the dynamism and complexity of Islamic art, and, as the exhibition title indicates, there is a special focus on physical aspects—the color, materials, shape and technique—of the objects. Certain works of art will be marked with an emblem to indicate a particularly interesting use of ink, silk or gold, and the entrance to the galleries will be embellished with portals evoking traditional Islamic archways.
The first centuries of Islam were filled with political and territorial shifts, and with each conquest came the absorption of sophisticated, foreign artistic practices. From the 11th to the 15th centuries, the Islamic world began breaking into individual kingdoms and establishing strong regional traditions. The exhibition includes examples of objects from these disparate regions, while also highlighting common elements. Mirroring the historical convergence of the three major Islamic empires in the 16th to 18th centuries, objects are grouped under sections for the Ottoman Empire, Safavid Iran and the Mughal Dynasty.
Throughout the history of Islam, its followers have created and used objects of exceptional beauty in both religious and secular contexts. “It is clear that art has long been a source of visual and intellectual pleasures and gratification in the Islamic world,” says Ms. Kennedy. “Art has also been used to display wealth, status and good taste. It is not just Qur’ans that are illuminated and mosques and palaces that are exquisitely outfitted. Even everyday objects, such as drinking glasses, bowls and coats, are often rendered in luxurious materials. Beauty permeates every aspect of life and reflects the extraordinary sophistication and refinement of Islamic culture, especially Islamic court culture.” The ornate decorative motifs of the tile lunette from Turkey and the door from Egypt, both pictured here, exemplify this tradition.
Exhibition highlights include a folio from the early medieval Blue Qur’an, one of the most lavish Qur’an manuscripts ever produced as well as one of the most famous works of Islamic calligraphy. “The Blue Qur’an demonstrates the fundamental significance of writing and the art of the book in Islamic art,” says Ms. Kennedy. “The gold script appears to dance across the page.” Other highlights include a folio from the Great Mongol Shahnama (Book of Kings); a drawing signed by the renowned Persian miniaturist Riza ʿAbbasi; a folio from the “Late Shah Jahan Album;” and the Ames carpet, one of the finest of all Mughal hunting carpets.
Islamic traditions and ideas continue to inspire the creativity of artists today. “It is quite rare to see historical and contemporary Islamic art together in the same exhibition, and the fact that Ink, Silk, and Gold brings the story up to the present day is one of its many strengths,” notes Ms. Kennedy. Four contemporary Muslim artists are represented, including Shahzia Sikander. Like the Blue Qur’an, Sikander’s Pathology of Suspension #6 (2003) has a rich chromatic background, calligraphic lines and extraordinary attention to detail. “There are many exciting connections between the earliest and most recent works of art on view,” says Ms. Kennedy. “Sikander learned the traditional art of miniature painting in Pakistan and now lives in New York. At more than six feet tall, her work brings the intimate format of Islamic manuscript illumination into conversation with monumental contemporary art of the West. By working on this grand scale, Sikander heightens our appreciation for the grace and intricacies of the smaller historical objects in the exhibition.”
This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Platinum Sponsor: HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA and TriStar Health
Silver Sponsor: Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art
Supporting Sponsor: The Nissan Foundation
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Friday, October 9
Frist Center Auditorium
First come, first seated
“Ink, Silk and Gold: Medium and Meaning in Islamic Art” Curator’s Perspective Presented by Laura Weinstein, Ananda Coomaraswamy Curator of South Asian and Islamic Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Works of art such as a brightly colored bowl, an ornate tombstone, or a handmade book are among the most tangible manifestations of Islamic culture. Because objects like these are most meaningful when put to use, understanding Islamic art requires considering what it might feel like to serve food in the bowl, to carve the tombstone, or to stamp the manuscript with a seal of ownership. In this lecture, Dr. Weinstein will discuss how the materials employed in creating the treasures of Ink, Silk, and Gold offer a window into what it meant to make or use those objects, bringing to light their most potent features and exploring what they can teach us about Islamic societies.
Tuesdays, October 13,
November 10, and December 8
11:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m.; lunch begins at 11:30 a.m. with lecture to follow at noon Free with advance registration; lunch and gallery admission included. Call Vanderbilt University at 615.322.8585 to reserve your place: Registration for the October 13 lecture opens on September 22.
Lecture Series: “Food for Thought”
In partnership with Vanderbilt University’s Office of Community, Neighborhood, and Government Relations, the Frist Center presents “Food for Thought: Ink, Silk, and Gold—Exploring the Historic Empires of the Islamic World through the Visual Arts and Culture,” a three-part series of lunchtime conversations featuring Vanderbilt professors, Frist Center curators, and members of the Nashville community.
Western perceptions of Islamic art and culture are too often clouded by news headlines and misinformation. Islamic art is not a product of one country or one mindset, or from one moment in history, because the Islamic world is multifaceted and multiethnic. The exhibition Ink, Silk, and Gold: Islamic Art from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston features art from the eighth to the twenty-first centuries and from Spain to Indonesia. By spotlighting distinct moments in history and geographic locations, this series of panel discussions will provide the community with an opportunity to learn about the diversity and vibrancy of Islamic art and culture. Visit fristcenter.org for lecture details, and mark your calendars for the next lectures on November 10 and December 8.
About the Frist Center
Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art exhibition center dedicated to presenting and originating high-quality exhibitions with related educational programs and community outreach activities. Located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., the Frist Center offers the finest visual art from local, regional, national, and international sources in a program of changing exhibitions that inspire people through art to look at their world in new ways. The Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery features interactive stations relating to Frist Center exhibitions. Information on accessibility may be found at fristcenter.org/accessibility. Gallery admission is free for visitors 18 and younger and to members; $12 for adults; $9 for seniors and college students with ID; and $7 for active military. College students are admitted free Thursday and Friday evenings (with the exception of Frist Fridays), 5:00–9:00 p.m. Discounts are offered for groups of 10 or more with advance reservations by calling 615.744.3247. The galleries, Café, and Gift Shop are open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.; and Sundays, 1:00–5:30 p.m., with the Café opening at noon. Additional information is available by calling 615.244.3340 or by visiting fristcenter.org.