Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture
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A reporter recently asked renowned Middle Eastern art historian Dr. Sabiha Al Khemir if she was intrigued by the notion of a major Islamic art exhibit opening at the Church-owned Brigham Young University.
"Intrigued? No," replied the Tunisian-born scholar and writer with a broad smile, "I'm thrilled."
Dr. Al Khemir is, of course, thrilled because hundreds of works of Islamic art will be displayed in front of a new audience in the American Rocky Mountain regions. But she's equally excited by the larger notion that art allows symbolic but powerful bridges to be built between two different cultures.
Travel across a bridge and you often find that the people and places found on either side share more similarities than differences. Such a truism helps define "Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture," an exhibit scheduled to open Feb. 24, 2012, at BYU's Museum of Art. "Beauty and Belief" will be displayed at the museum until Sept. 29, 2012, before being housed for short stints at museums in Indiana, New Jersey and Oregon.
"We feel privileged to be the sponsoring institution of 'Beauty and Belief,'" said Stephen Jones, dean of the school's College of Fine Arts and Communications. "We are excited for thousands of visitors to see this fine exhibit and strengthen and embrace their experiences of Islamic art and culture."
It's that notion of "thousands of visitors" throughout the BYU and Latter-day Saint community that further thrills Dr. Al Khemir, who worked with the museum staff to put the exhibition together. Yes, countless students will gain a better understanding of the Muslim world and its layered artistic culture by visiting "Beauty and Belief." But it's hoped the reach of the exhibit extends beyond the borders of the campus to stretch across local families, Primary groups and Mutual gatherings.
"I hope that as visitors interact with the displays and discover different ways of seeing, they will leave with a new understanding of Islamic culture and that through experiencing the visual language of Islamic culture sight is transformed into insight," she said.
On Nov. 30, Dr. Al Khemir joined members of the BYU-MOA leadership and other museum directors involved in the exhibit for a special panel discussion on "Beauty and Belief." She spoke of her wish that children as well as students and professional historians would be enriched by the exhibit. Visitors who might approach the exhibit with pre-conceived notions or opinions about Islam may have those ideas challenged through the art and its universally familiar messages of devotion and beauty.
In a discussion with the Church News, Dr. Al Khemir said Latter-day Saint visitors who cherish personal spirituality will be able to recognize such sensibilities in much of the work. Many of the artists used gold and earthenware to celebrate their love and adoration for God and His creations. Their work stands as humble offerings to God.
"Beauty and Belief" features more than 250 objects by 40 lenders from nine countries in Europe and the Middle East. Many of the pieces have never been displayed in the United States and the BYU exhibit marks the first time all the objects will be found in one place.
Museum leaders have praised Dr. Al Khemir's efforts to make the exhibit accessible to a wide audience. "Beauty and Belief" will be placed in the museum's main galleries and interactive educational pavilions will help visitors of all ages and backgrounds to explore and understand the differences between Islamic and Western art.
Admission to the exhibit will be free. Visit the exhibit's web site, www.beauty-and-belief.com or call (801) 422-8287 for more information.