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Islamic Art and Science Exhibition


Islamic art and science exhibitions are quite common. What is not so common is when it is held at a shopping mall.

banner of Iqra: The garden of Wisdom

"Iqra': The Garden of Wisdom" is an apt theme for this 13-day exhibition (from 12th to 24th of September 2008).

This Islamic art and science exhibition was held at one of the walkways at Queensbay Mall in Penang.

Despite limited space, an astonishing array of artifacts and artwork were displayed in a very attractive setting.

The artifacts were carefully chosen by the curator, Ruzaika Omar Basaree, who is also an accomplished artist.

Most of them reflected the achievement by the Muslims in science and art at the peak of its civilization.

 From West Asia, well known as Andalusia - Spain, Turkey and Persia (Iran), especially, followed by their influence in South East Asia, especially the Malay peninsula.

The examples of Islamic art and science were numerous: calligraphy work, old navigation and astronomy apparatus, a sun dial, a giant incense burner, pottery with Arabic calligraphy and even a full set of brass chain mail helmet and armor were on display. Books of Islamic architecture and the beautiful handwritten holy Al-Quran were made available to the public to appreciate.

The progress in science and art mostly indicated how well advanced a civilization was. In order for both to prosper, the patrons of art and science, which in most cases the ruling governments, must be ready to provide enough funds for work and research to be carried out. Since progress in these fields required a lot of time also, only the true intellects would appreciate the value of the outcome.

islamic art and artifacts on display at the exhibition
Islamic art and scientific artifacts on display at the exhibition

It was interesting to note as it was forbidden in Islam to copy animals or human forms, even for artistic purposes, the Islamic art emerged in the forms of beautiful geometry, calligraphy and architecture. Some of these were embedded in objects used for daily living.

The artifacts were gathered from several resources. Some belonged to the permanent collection of Tuanku Fauziah Museum and Art Gallery, USM. Some of them came from the M.A.R museum of Terengganu, the Asian Art museum of University Malaya and also Galeri Pusaka Moyang (Ancestors' Heritage Gallery).

The set up of the Islamic art and science display was very user-friendly and interactive. Visitors were encouraged to participate.

For example, 3-D glasses were ready for anyone to put them on in order to see the splendor of 3-D images of some of the great architectural work in the Islamic world.

Chinese sword a gift to Sultan of Terengganu in the 19th century
A magnificent jade studded scabbard with its sword given to the Sultan of Terengganu
by China signifying their friendship in the 19th century

There were also blank geometry patterns for children to color. By encouraging these young visitors to participate, their visits would be more lasting and meaningful in their minds.

Other events were also scheduled alongside the daily exhibition. There were a nasyid (Islamic choir) show, kompang show (Malay hand-held drums), congkak playing (a traditional Malay game requiring a high counting skill), calligraphy sessions (both Arabic and Chinese Muslim art), together with an astronomy talk by a lecturer from USM. These events were to be done on different days.

This exhibition of course tied in nicely with the month of Ramadhan. After all, the first verse of the Al-Quran, the Suratul-Iqra' was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in this month. Iqra' means "read" in Arabic. By being able to read, one gathers the "Garden of Wisdom" in one's life.

The purpose of this exhibition is also to create public awareness about the existence of USM's Tuanku Fauziah Museum and Art Gallery which until now still is an obscure place for many of us. This museum should have more visitors as they prepare a lot of activities to make your visit very educational and interesting.

The activities range from short science projects for children, cultural shows to corporate bodies and also art and craft workshops (like batik and t-shirt printing). The fees are also very reasonable considering the quality of instruction being offered. 

This museum took a bold step by bringing its products to where people were. However, I still think there is still room for improvement. This exhibition should have had more visitors if it was widely publicized before it was held. It would also attract more participants if the area allocated had more passers-by traffic, like the main central concourse.

I know the choice made by the management was purely on economic reason. Still, this exhibition was a success and the effort should be very much lauded.

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