Islamic exhibit at BYU aids understanding
By William L. Hamblin and Daniel C. Peterson
For the Deseret News
Published: Saturday, Sept. 8 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT
Included in the exhibit “Beauty and Belief” are the artistic writings found in a manuscript copy of the Quran. Most of the object were crafted by anonymous artists. Courtesy of the BYU-MOA.
Jason Swensen, Deseret News
1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, Islam has been an enormous factor in world history for roughly 14 centuries, and it continues to be a potent force in contemporary international politics, as well. Since February, BYU’s “Beauty and Belief” art exhibit provides a sampling of the art created in societies fostered by Islam from the seventh century onward, including works by contemporary artists.
Moreover, Islam is growing in the United States. There are several mosques in greater Salt Lake City alone, and Muslims are, more and more commonly, not just “over there” for ordinary Americans, but our neighbors, our co-workers and even our employers.
These are more than adequate reasons for people in Utah and beyond to seek a better understanding of Islam. And people who want to understand Islam better have, for just a little while longer, a world class opportunity to do so: Since February, Brigham YoungUniversity’s Museum of Art has been hosting a major exhibit, originated and designed under the museum’s leadership, entitled “Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture.”
“Beauty and Belief,” which is the largest traveling exhibition of Islamic art ever assembled in the United States, provides a sampling of the art created in societies fostered by Islam from the seventh century onward, including works by contemporary artists. Drawing from collections across the United States, as well as from many other countries in Europe and the Middle East such as Kuwait, Great Britain, France, Denmark, Morocco and Italy, it provides perhaps the only opportunity most of us will ever have to see this assemblage of works all in one place. Many of the objects have never before been displayed in the United States.
At a time when bridge-building and cross-cultural understanding are needed more than they ever have been before, the show combines historical and geographic background with successive unfolding sections of calligraphy, ?gurative imagery and pattern in a very deliberate effort to build bridges and to bring cultures together. One of the mottos prominently associated with the exhibit is a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam: “God is beautiful,” he said, “and loves beauty.” Surely this sentiment offers a broad common ground on which believers from various traditions can meet.
In at least one case, the exhibit even challenges the assumption, held by both many Muslims and many non-Muslims, that the art of Islam bans ?gural representation.