Monthly Archives: April 2012

Observations – KL Visit – Islamic Art Museum part 2

I now have a bit of time in my hands so I am posting a continuation of my last post about my visit to the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. As you may have read from my previous post I had visited KL late last year with my parents and my oldest brother. We had a chance visiting an Islamic museum  in the middle of the city in front of the mosque.

Continuing on my last post, we were in the lobby of the museum. Taking a flight upstairs passing a large souvenir store for the museum as well as an upscale restaurant, we reach the first gallery of the museum, The China Gallery.

The banner for the China Gallery of the museum

The gallery is quite large for a museum for that size, topped with a decorated warm coloured dome (more on that later ). The space is airy because of the position of the gallery being in front of the large windows of the modern facade of the museum.The gallery focuses on Islamic art in China and influences of both China culture to the Islamic countries and vice versa.

A little history lesson first ; Islam was believed to be introduced in China around the early 5th Century when a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, Saad bin ibn Waqqas arrived in the country, even though it is disputed amongst historians, citing that Muslim merchants and diplomats were responsible for the introducing the faith into China . Islam began to rise and expand since, inviting converts in the country, creating a large Muslim community. Cultures mingle between Middle Eastern and Chinese and this can be seen in the arts and architecture.

Calligraphic scrolls on display in the China Gallery

The gallery, as I mentioned before , shows the influences of both Islamic and Chinese aesthetic, combining into one unique culture. Along the walls of the gallery are scrolls with samples of Arabic calligraphy done in Sini script – script of Arabic language done with influence of Chinese characters, defined  with square like script done with traditional Chinese brushes and ink. In the middleof the scroll are paintings of fruits, peaches perhaps, with calligraphy in the middle of each fruit.

Chinese Underglazed dishes on display

Ceramics such as tiles and dishes are one of the most important exports of China to  the Islamic world – without it, there would be no
iznik Tiles in Turkey, or the blue tiles of the Shah Mosque. Techniques such as underglazing were introduced to the Islamic world gradually and motifs such as the flowery ones seen on the tiles of Suleymaniye Mosque in Turkey were adored and fashionable within the Islamic artistic community. Muslim artisans emulate and improved technologies from China to be used in their respective countries. The above dishes were underglazed ceramics with painted calligraphic Islamic texts  which is probably talisman in nature.

Detail of a Chinese bowl with Islamic and Chinese decoration

This is one of the dishes on display in the Gallery. the depictions of birds, as  well as any other living figures are prohibited in Islam. However the depiction of animals are common in Chinese art. Here you can see the Chinese influenced decorations of birds and vegetation, combined with abstract vegetal design and medallions of Islamic calligraphy in various scripts. I can read some Arabic but the script is actually foreign to me – possibly the script is in South Asian language or even Persian.

The dome above the Gallery

Above the gallery is yet another dome decorated with gold filigree design. It is quite awe-inspiring to see when you enter the gallery although a bit distracting to me, since the dome lead the eye upward instead on focusing on the displays.

Next, I will post about the Malay World Gallery which is just next to the China Gallery…stay tuned!

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