Another Way of Looking: Influences from Islam
main gallery: May 21 to June 26, 2010
Religion is a delicate matter for many individuals and communities, and as an outsider it is difficult to navigate the sensibilities of believers. This project attempts to celebrate the artistic genius of Islam – a faith and a culture. A faith that, although growing rapidly world wide, is a minority faith in the United States. With these exhibitions no offence is intended, we hope that none will be taken, and ultimately, in a small way, this project might lead to better respect and understanding.
Cleveland State University Art Gallery has a history of presenting art that emerges from the context of religious thought, practice, and sensibility in various traditions. The very first exhibition in this series, and the one that set us on this course, dates back to 1990 when we presented the exhibition Sacred Landmarks, which was a celebration of sacred edifices (churches, temples, mosques) in the Cleveland area. Out of this first exhibition developed a tradition of presenting art that engages with religious ideas and traditions.
Over the intervening 20 years the Art Gallery has presented exhibitions that addressed the art of Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism, in various forms. Islam, as a subject, however, eluded us. Many times we planned for such an exhibition and many times we did not succeed. The difficulties were possibly due to the fact that Islam and American culture were perceived to be at odds on the world stage.
The present project began when professor of Art History, Dr. Marian Bleeke, who teaches medieval art (which includes the great flowering of Islamic art), joined our Gallery Committee and expressed an interest in curating an exhibition exploring the art of Islam. We realized that in order to successfully organize an ‘Islamic’ exhibition we would need not only the support of the Islamic community, but also the understanding and sensibility of the ‘insider.’ In Dr. Bleeke’s research, Nama Khalil had come to her attention as an accomplished local photographer who was not only Muslim, but also engaged with Islam in her work.
When Dr. Bleeke and I met Nama, we were very impressed. Her poise, her art, and her instant understanding our ideas for the exhibition gave us to understand that we had found the right person. Fortunately for us Nama agreed not only to participate as an artist but also to take on the added responsibility of curating the contemporary component of the project, whereas Dr. Bleeke would curate an adjunct exhibition of historical artifacts, which would highlight the traditions from which the contemporary forms emerged.
As a serendipitous addition to the project, Dean Gregory Sadlek made us aware of the availability of an exhibition of photographs by Dr. Cemal Ekin, who, by special permission, was admitted to photograph the inside of Hagia Sophia, as it was closed to the public for the purpose of conservation. Taking advantage of the scaffolding that was erected, Dr. Ekin achieved unprecedented views and details.
We hope that the exhibitions will please, enlighten, and edify. We hope that you will gain insight, understanding, and appreciation, and that you will join us in celebrating ‘Another Way of Looking.’
Director, Art Gallery