*Picture heavy post. I had a tough time choosing which to post for the second part of my trip to the Islamic Arts Museum. Even then, there are still loads – so bear with me :D
Located in the heart of KL, just next to the National Mosque, the Islamic Arts Museum houses an extensive collection of art and artifacts from around the Muslim world: from scripts, holy texts and books to pottery, swords and jewellery. It is very well kept and there are many things to see – a far cry from (the rather outdated) Muzium Negara (National Museum). It’s no wonder that the museum has been consistently ranked as one of the top 10 must-visit museums in Asia since 2014.
After exploring the temporary exhibitions on the first floor, I moved to the second floor which houses the permanent exhibits.
The first thing that caught my eye when I looked up was this huge dome with extremely intricate detailing. Geometric shapes and patterns are a major part of Islamic art. The interesting thing is because Islam is so widespread, ‘Islamic’ art doesn’t just cover one specific region or culture – It features varied influences from Islamic societies (both ancient and modern), eg Safavid Iran, Turkish Ottoman, etc – and is therefore very difficult to define as having only one ‘style’.
It is often said that the depiction of figures (people) is forbidden (or discouraged? correct me if I’m wrong) because it is considered idolatry. In the museum, however, visitors will still find items with people on them such as paintings. The focus is still mainly on the use of repeated elements such as geometrical floral or vegetal designs, known as the arabesque.
Plates, urns and containers from various regions in Asia, such as China (bottom left), which has that distinctive white and blue Ming dynasty look but instead of dragon/cloud motifs, the jars has Quranic verses on them.
Intricate detailing. Not sure if just this page, or if it’s the same on every page. If it is, then that sure is a lot of work for the artist!
These scrolls are a unique blend of Chinese and Islamic calligraphy.
These paintings incorporate traditional Chinese motifs, such as peaches and lotus flowers – but notice that the detailing is made up of Quranic verses.
The Mughal emperors were renowned Islamic Kings who ruled over the Indian subcontinent (now Bangladesh, parts of India and Pakistan) during the early 16th to the 18th century. Here, the many wives of a Mughal King are immortalized in elaborate portraits.
The Islamic world in their golden age had some pretty amazing craftsmen, who wouldn’t lose out to any of the other civilizations. They worked with many materials, such as ivory (left) and seashells (right).
Metalwork was also part of the repertoire.
Paintings from the Mughal dynasty (17th century), depicting the famous emperor Shah Jahan seated with attendants.
Women are rarely shown, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any pieces depicting women. Above is Princess On a Horseback Admist Rampaging Elephants, from 18th century Hyderabad. The brave princess is seen seated ona horse with a weapon in her hand, leading the charge against a herd of wild animals.
More Mughal-era portraits of kings, rulers and leaders.
Jewellery, boxes and tea sets, all exquisitely made with superb detail.
Closer to home, there is this giant copy of the Royal Al-Quran, from 19th century Terengganu. The text is painstakingly done by hand and surrounded by gold motif and patterns.
The second area also had a dome, which had an equally trippy design.
Textiles from the Malay/Indonesian community. Islam arrived in the region some 500 years ago and has since become the main religion of the people. Although it might have arrived earlier, it was propagated most widely during the golden age of Malacca, when the state became a port for trading between the East and West.
Head dresses and jewellery worn by Moroccan brides.
Very fancy earrings and brooches. Would not look out of place, even in modern times. I’d like those umbrella-like earrings :D
Chainmail and barong from the Muslim Mindanao region in the Philippines.
Sword scabbard and Western-style guns.
Even the gunpowder containers are covered in detailing.
Reproduction of a wealthy Turkish Ottoman home, with items you’d typically find in a well-to-do household in that era.
Like the Europeans during the Baroque era, the affluent Ottomans liked pretty things in their home -and every inch is covered by beautiful detailing and decorative items of beauty – mirrors, carpet, pots, plates, lamps.
I think this display highlighted Azerbaijan, if I’m not mistaken.
Minted coins with Arabic verses were used as currency in many Islamic countries. Just like modern day coins, different countries had different coins.
Beautifully polished porcelain tea sets, jars and pots. If you looked at it, the beautiful motifs and paintings were certainly able to rival European standards.
Another dome, this one blue in colour. I can seriously stare at this all day.
Different shades of blue on plates (love the teal on the bottom left!) and ceramic tiles.
A carved wooden window.
Wooden chess set!
Women’s purses. Despite being several hundred years old, they still look pretty fashionable imo.
Colourful costumes from Islamic communities around the world.
Gold decorative items – brooch and a jewel-encrusted pipe.
I don’t even know what this is but it looks freaking cool.
More books and scrolls.
Tucked in a corner of the exhibition hall is this large black cloth which is part of the Kiswa, used to cover the Kaaba in Mecca. It is one of the most iconic and most recognizable images in Islam. You know when they film the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and you see the big square structure in the middle surrounded by worshippers? That’s the Kaaba, inside which is set a holy Black Stone said to be from the heavens, and the structure is covered in this black cloth.
The part featured here is the door curtain, or the Sitara or Burqu, and was used in 1964 to drape the door to the Kaaba. The cloth is made from black silk and features gold and silver embroidery.
A mini al-Quran. It’s so tiny you have to use a magnifying glass to read it.
Gold pages, with an almost fairytale-like frame.
The media often demonizes Islam as a religion that is backwards, but the Islamic Arts Museum proves otherwise. Here’s what I believe – the golden age of Islam, where its arts, science and culture flourished, was also one where it opened its doors to the world. Islam in its heyday interacted with other cultures, was open and inclusive – as opposed to a branch of extremely conservative Wahhabi-sm prevalent in many communities today.
Like Christianity, Islam is going through its own ‘rebirth’ period – under intense scrutiny. Only time will tell how it’ll turn out.
ISLAMIC ARTS MUSEUM MALAYSIA
Jalan Lembah Perdana, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, 50480, Malaysia
Open daily: 10AM – 6PM
Phone: +60 3-2092 7070