Islamic Treasures

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


It is not every day that Kuala Lumpur gets to host a truly world-class exhibition, and there can be no other way to describe the current show at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM). With a title of Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum: Architecture in Islamic Arts, this show comprises 100 artifacts, of which many are genuinely priceless.

The exhibition is divided into six sections including “The Fortress and the City,” which focuses on forts and fortified settlements; “The Palace,” which centres on royal dwellings; “Gardens, Pavilions, and Tents,” which explores how private spaces were portrayed; and “Sacred Typographies,” which looks at how the sites of Islamic pilgrimage were shown in visual art.

The exhibits include everything from ceramics to metalwork, tiling to wood carvings, which together span several hundred years, and a massive geographic area stretching from Islamic Spain to Central Asia. At the heart of the exhibition are the miniature paintings, whose intricate detail is matched only by their exquisite beauty. It is through studying the miniatures that the IAMM’s Head of Curatorial Affairs, Dr Heba Nayel Barakat, hopes visitors can get a new perspective on Islamic culture:

“I am sure visitors will be stunned by the beauty of the miniatures. We want people to see architecture from a very different point of view. People should visit this exhibition with the eye of the miniature painter of the 15th and 16th century to see how he used architecture and how he viewed it.”

Choosing the exhibits was a collaborative process between the IAMM and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The trust is just one strand of the philanthropic work of the Aga Khan, who is the hereditary spiritual leader of Ismaili tradition of Shia Islam. The Trust’s general manager is Luis Monreal:

“This is an exhibition which tries to tell the public how, during many centuries, Islamic artists dealt with the built environment: the cities, the houses, the palaces, the gardens. For many people this is going to be a great surprise, because they think that Islamic Art does not include representations of landscape or representations of human figures, that Islamic art is all geometric or calligraphic.”

However impressive this selection of artwork is, it forms only a small part of what will eventually be the Aga Khan Museum in the Canadian city of Toronto. The permanent museum is due to open at the end of next year and will hold some 1,000 artifacts in its collection. Many of these pieces, linked by different themes,  have toured some of the most prestigious museums and galleries in the world.

“This exhibition is not an isolated event,” explains Monreal, “it is not an isolated product. It is part of an ambitious programme which started six years ago to send artwork around the world to different countries, starting with Europe, to spread the notion that Islamic arts and Muslim societies are not only very old, but they are diverse and creative, too.”

Each travelling exhibition has its own theme, showcasing different elements of the future Toronto collection, so although the KL show is only part of this overall touring programme, it is a unique event in its own right. Benoit Junod, the Director of Museums and Exhibitions at the Aga Khan Trust, says there has not been an exhibition on the subject of architecture in Islamic arts since 1982.


“This is something which is out of the ordinary,” says Junod, “and an uncommon approach to Islamic arts. The temporary exhibitions we have had so far have attracted an enormous amount of public interest. We are up to 940,000 visitors, since announcing the creation of the museum, and we very much hope we are going to get to one million thanks to all the people who will come to see our exhibition here [in Malaysia].”

The Aga Khan, who officially opened the exhibition in KL, paid tribute to the work done by the IAMM in furthering the knowledge of Islamic art and culture in Malaysia. He said this kind of work was important to counter “misconceptions” about the Islamic world.

“It is our responsibility to correct the messages being sent around the world about our history and about our culture,” he says. “We see more and more museums coming up in the Islamic world that illustrate the diversity, the history, and the great traditions of our world. We are re-entering the knowledge of global humanities, from which we have been absent for too long.”

Treasures of the Aga Khan
Museum: Architecture in Islamic Arts runs at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) from 30 March to 29 June.

The museum is open every day (including public holidays) from 10am-6pm and tickets are priced at RM12 (adults), RM6 (students and Malaysians aged 55 and over), while children aged 6 and under enter free of charge.

The IAMM is located close to the Lake Gardens and the National Mosque on Jalan Lembah Perdana, KL. Contact the museum on 03.2274 2020 or by emailing [email protected].

Source: The Expat May 2012 Issue

Get your free subscription and free delivery of The Expat Magazine.

This article has been edited for

"ExpatGo welcomes and encourages comments, input, and divergent opinions. However, we kindly request that you use suitable language in your comments, and refrain from any sort of personal attack, hate speech, or disparaging rhetoric. Comments not in line with this are subject to removal from the site. "


Click to comment

Most Popular

To Top