Wednesday, 6 June 2018

PUTTING TOGETHER THE (BROKEN AND LOST) PIECES

EXHIBITION REVIEWS

BY: KESANG NANGLU

If you’ve read the most recent installment of Internship Check-In, you’ll know that I’m spending my summer at the Aga Khan Museum. Those of you who have never been are not alone – many of the people I’ve spoken to say the same thing: they've been meaning to, but haven't gotten around to going.

Photo courtesy Philip Castelton.
If you fall into that category, what better reason to go (besides free admission with OMA membership) than the fact that the current temporary exhibition, The World of the Fatimids, is entering its final weeks and features objects never-before-seen in North America tracing back to the Fatimid dynasty (909-1171 CE)!

A unique and powerful empire, the Fatimid caliphs who ruled North Africa and parts of the Middle East fostered a culture of religious freedom and tolerance that lead to flourishing of the arts and sciences. Overthrown in 1171, buildings, artworks, and valuables of all kinds were looted or destroyed.

Bowl, 1050-1100. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Source.
The exhibition represents a collaborative effort by a number of institutions, with rare objects coming from collections around the world including: The Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, The Louvre, The Victoria and Albert Museum and others. Through collaboration and partnership between museums, generations of artistic production lost to war and politics are brought to light, echoing the trade and cultural exchange that made Fatimid rule so prosperous.

For those unfamiliar with this history, the exhibition opens with a timeline of the Fatimid dynasty:

Photo courtesy of Aly Manji.
Photo courtesy of Aly Manji.
The interpretive elements throughout are definitely a highlight of the exhibition - maps give visitors insight into the territorial reach of the fallen empire, and additional reading material and resources (books and iPads) are available at several seating areas.

A video room toward the exit plays a documentary about Fatimid architecture in Cairo, with interviews from a number of specialists in Islamic art and history. However, the video you'll more likely take notice of is the huge wall projection by the exhibition's entrance. Drone footage of Cairo plays with loud music (akin to a Hollywood blockbuster soundtrack) that is heard throughout the space, distracting from the experience of viewing such thoughtfully crafted artifacts.

These include floor-to-ceiling marble reliefs, painted ceramics, and precious luxury items like jewelry boxes and a rock crystal chess set. This crescent-shaped rock crystal is a relic engraved with an Arabic inscription. Its gilded silver mount was added centuries later by a Venetian goldsmith.

Relic (Ostensorium), Germnischen Nationalmuseums. Source.
Many other objects featured similarly blend disparate artistic styles and regional techniques - a result of the diversity of the population of Cairo under Fatimid rule, and the influence of the Silk Road. Their selection speaks to the exhibition's broader themes of interfaith and intercultural dialogue, which in turn aligns itself well with the museum's mission to be a place of learning and intellectual exchange.

The World of the Fatimids runs during March 10, 2018 to July 02, 2018.

Upcoming related programming:
June 14 - Ibn Al Tahhan's "A Compendium of a Fatimid Court Musician" with George Sawa

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