Home Arts The Houston Museum of Fine Arts becomes the “nexus for the study of Islamic art”

The Houston Museum of Fine Arts becomes the “nexus for the study of Islamic art”

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Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the United States, while Texas has the fifth largest Muslim community of any state in the country. To reflect this culture, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) recently opened six additional permanent galleries in its Islamic Worlds Art Wingwhich is now filled with hundreds of works donated by Iranian-born collector Hossein Afshar.

The addition of six new galleries nearly doubled the area reserved for Islamic art at the MFAH. The institution now houses what its director and president Gary Tinterow describes as “perhaps the largest collection of Iranian art in private hands”.

The expansion comes 15 years after the museum launched its Art of the Islamic Worlds initiative, developed in partnership with local Islamic philanthropists who wanted to see their heritage recognized and celebrated in Houston museums.

The MFAH’s latest unveiling marks the culmination of a long campaign to establish the museum as a world leader in the preservation, exhibition, research and documentation of Islamic art. Afshar’s loan is the second iteration of this model – in 2012 an agreement was reached between the MFAH and the Al-Sabah collection in Kuwaitwho has loaned hundreds of Islamic objects to the museum, many of which appear in the Islamic Worlds wing along with the art of Afshar and the museum’s other collections.

The galleries now display a vast selection of antiquities ranging from the 7th to the 19th century, including manuscripts, ceramics, inlaid metal objects and textiles from countries as diverse as Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and India.

“The Islamic world is not a monolith,” says Aimée Froom, curator of art from Islamic worlds at the museum. “We try to emphasize that Islamic art spans regions as diverse as East Asia to the far west of modern Spain.”

Afshar’s donation includes unique artifacts. “Some bestselling pieces on display include a 17th century Polonaise silk carpet made by Safavid Persian weavers which is in fabulous condition, as well as two pages from the most important copy of the 16th century Shahnama manuscript,” Froom said.

Houston has the largest Muslim population in Texas, and as a result, the museum’s dedication to Islamic cultural heritage goes beyond the realm of aesthetics. The galleries’ opening coincided with the MFAH’s New Beginnings Festival, a free event that ushered in spring with celebratory traditions from across Asia and the Middle East, held in the museum’s sculpture garden. .

This active approach to inclusivity has paid off. “Over 2,600 people came to the festival, which totally exceeded our expectations,” says Froom. On March 2, Froom also organized the biennial symposium of the Association of Islamic Art Historians at the MFAH, furthering the institution’s reputation as “a nexus for the study of Islamic art,” says Froom. .

But the museum is not just for people with an interest in Islam. “Many of the arts underlying the overarching themes are universal and go beyond the theoretical boundaries of Islam,” says Froom. “Art is linked to humanity in general.”

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