One of the world's most renowned collections of Islamic art will make its way to the Bayou City in 2013, thanks to a new exchange agreement between the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) and the celebrated Kuwaiti cultural institution Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI).
MFAH director Gary Tinterow and DAI director Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah finalized an arrangement that will bring roughly 60 objects from the al-Sabah Collection to the MFAH's Law Building for a year-long exhibit starting January 26, 2013.
"With a single stroke, we'll be able to show the amazing development of Islamic visual culture from the 8th to the 18th centuries."
In a gallery fully dedicated to the collection — which is owned by the DIA director herself along with husband Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah — Houstonians will see an unprecedented cross-section of art from the Islamic world with items ranging from woven carpets and architectural fragments to ceramics, metalwork and scientific instruments.
Throughout the duration of the five-year commitment, the MFAH will reciprocate with staff exchanges and training. At a future date, the museum also will loan artwork and exhibitions.
"With a single stroke, we'll be able to show the amazing development of Islamic visual culture from the 8th to the 18th centuries," Tinterow tells CultureMap. "From rugs to carpentry to jewelry, this is a rare opportunity to see such high quality examples — all in one place."
The Houston exhibit covers not only art made in the Middle East and Central Asia, but also work created on the Iberian Peninsula and across North Africa to highlight the manner in which aesthetics based on calligraphy and geometry would evolve throughout the entire Muslim sphere. Artistic renderings of the written word will be seen in illuminated manuscripts, stone capitals, textiles and metal work. Intricate geometric ornamentation, meanwhile, can be found on a 15th-century ceiling panel and a Mamluk rug from Egypt.
Houstonians will see an unprecedented cross-section of art.
Also included will be a collection of jewelry from the Mughal Empire, a number of pieces of which were on view at the MFAH in 2002 for an exhibit called Treasury of the World. Director Sheikha Hussah al-Sabah marks that early show as the beginning of DAI's close working relationship with its Texas museum partner.
“It was a son of Houston, the Honorable George H.W. Bush, who spearheaded the UN coalition that liberated Kuwait from Iraq in 1991," she says in a statement.
"Houston and Kuwait share much more than a common interest in oil production; there is also a common interest in learning from and about other cultures. We are proud that, together, the MFAH and the DAI will give all the people of Houston a new opportunity for sharing."