Sydney AveyDynamic Women — Changing Times
Art Exhibit, a Short Course in World Religion
For years I’ve ignored art exhibits that feature Eastern religions. At a glance, I wasn’t drawn to images that held no relevance for me. But when we were invited a to Member’s Exhibition Preview to view Wondrous Worlds: Art & Islam Through Time & Place at the Phoenix Art Museum, we accepted.
My first reason for accepting was far from lofty. We’re new art museum members. The chance to feel special (and sample free pastries) was a draw. My second reason was to broaden my admittedly limited understanding of the Muslim world. I decided to see what the art of this ancient culture had to say to me. As it turned out, the morning was a quick course on one world religion.
The art exhibit
The art exhibit features more than 100 artworks from as old as 800 AD alongside contemporary works. Here is a smattering of what I saw.
Arabic calligraphy is beautiful. Words expressed in different fonts adorn handwritten books and are an integral part of some ceramics. Artists weave poetry into textiles.
This contemporary piece, fashioned from delicate chains, portrays shapes unique to Islamic architecture.. In other contemporary prints, Sufi poetry pairs with modern imagery that demonstrates the enduring power of beautiful words to describe creation.
This lyre-type instrument is carved from a single piece of wood. I counted about 26 strings the musician plays with a bow. Love the tambourine!
Overheard in the museum
The people viewing the artifacts were decidedly chatty. We offered our observations and asked each other questions to test our understanding of what we were seeing.
“That beggar bowl looks expensive for the beggar to carry,” remarked a woman standing next to me.
“That was my thought,” I said.
“Maybe people filled them with alms and wore them when they went out (a chain suggested that people wore the bowls like necklaces).” That led to a discussion of the third pillar of Islam, charity.
Displays of hospitality
The displays on hospitality created quite a buzz. In Islam, serving guests is considered a benefit to host, guest, and God. Such entertainment exercises the host’s ability to be considerate and generous. Through the host’s generosity, the guest experiences God’s love. As a bonus, the guest develops the consciousness to be thoughtful and grateful. As a result, the positive behaviors of guest and host improve the condition of their souls, which must please God.
I’ve never thought of hospitality as worship.
A learning experience
Art is more than entertainment. A visit to an art museum can counter the disturbing imagery in films and videos that contribute to fear and loathing. When I imagine the peace and beauty of the courtyard (depicted in one of the exhibits) where friends sit on pillows, drink coffee, play board games, and read poetry to each other, I can relate.
© Sydney Avey