A medieval Egyptian water filter decorated with a prancing rabbit is just one of many intriguing objects in the Kelsey's upcoming special exhibition "Pearls of Wisdom: The Arts of Islam at the University of Michigan," opening October 15. Other objects range from medieval cut-glass cosmetics containers to an ethereal modern painting that layers different Arabic letterforms over each other. Together, the 82 artifacts in the exhibition capture the richness and diversity of the university's Islamic collections, embracing textiles, paintings, and illuminated manuscripts as well as works in ceramic, glass, metal, and wood.
"Pearls of Wisdom" takes its title from the writings of the medieval calligrapher Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi, who in his treatise on penmanship equates the calligrapher's art of beautiful writing to a jeweler stringing pearls. This cross-media metaphor inspired guest curators Christiane Gruber (U-M Associate Professor of the History of Art) and Ashley Dimmig (U-M Ph.D. student in the History of Art) to organize the objects on display by theme rather than by medium, culture, or period. The themes they consider include intersections between function and decoration; the aesthetic power of everyday objects; visual play, wit, and magic; connections and interrelationships across arts forms, and light symbolism and illumination.
A number of additional resources will enhance the experience of the exhibition for visitors of all ages. A full-color catalogue, on sale in the Kelsey Gift Shop, illustrates and interprets each object in the exhibition. Programming for children will include online lesson plans for teachers and home-school parents as well as an interactive display in the gallery. Related events are listed on the Kelsey website in the "Events" column.
Please join us at the Kelsey Museum from October 15 to December 21, 2014, as we explore issues central to the conception and production of Islamic art over the last fifteen centuries.