Sunday, 24 June 2007

The Arts of Islam exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW was, frankly, a bit of a disappointment. During the week a guy spoke on TV (SBS, natch) about how the quality of Islamic art entitled Mulsims to greater esteem in the West. He was shown escorting Mary Kostakidis around the displays.

Among a plethora of illustrated manuscripts were a few ceramic items that caught my eye, and I bought a little $14-dollar jug on the way out to celebrate finishing my semester one assignments. There are also some nice metal items.

But give me the Renaissance any day.

I don't attribute value to items made for the elite, regardless of how perfect they are or how much gold leaf they display. The execution in illustrated panels evinces identical aesthetic choices as those made by Western scribes and artisans of the Middle Ages. There's absolutely nothing new here.

Regardless, I bought the catalogue.

In the shop behind the wall with the 'exit' sign on it you can buy a number of titles added for purely commercial reasons by the gallery's management. Naipaul's Among the Beleivers rubs shoulders with Ayaan Hirsi Ali's scathing critique of Islam. There's Abdelrahman Manif's Cities of Salt and Amin Maalouf's Balthasar's Odyssey, The Heart of Islam by Seyyed Hossain Nasr, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and (of course) Nine Parts of Desire.

So whether you feel disposed to grant esteem to Islamic art, or not, you can indulge any whim in the shop. The one book I think should definitely have been there, and wasn't, was Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red, which is about illustrators in nineteenth-century Istanbul. A perfect fit, I would have thought.

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