‘Sacred Words, Timeless Calligraphy’ exhibition by SMA illustrates history
His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, has inaugurated the “Sacred Words, Timeless Calligraphy: Highlights of Exceptional Calligraphy from the Hamid Jafar Qur’an Collection” exhibition organised by Sharjah Museums Authority (SMA) at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization. It is being held under his patronage. To run till March 19, 2023, showcased are never-seen-before rare Qur’an manuscripts and Islamic calligraphy. It is part of the SMA’s efforts aimed at raising awareness about the history of Arabic calligraphy and its role in enriching the global art scene.
The show features a selection of 52 rare examples of Qur’an manuscripts, including a painting and a rug spanning 14 centuries of Islamic civilisation from the Near East to China, South East Asia to Spain and the Maghrib, depicting its influence as a unifying force and source of inspiration for different cultures.
The manuscripts were often undertaken under royal patronage, and their production was typically regarded as the opportunity of a lifetime for the teams of calligraphers, artists and craftsmen who spent lifetimes honing their skills.
In his foreword to the publication accompanying the exhibition, His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi says that “the works illustrated in this exhibition “Sacred Words, Timeless Calligraphy” illustrate some of the finest examples of this Islamic artform, with manuscripts spanning many centuries of Islamic history and across continents of the Muslim world.”
Manal Ataya, SMA Director General in her Welcome, says that “the exhibition offers visitors deep insights into the evolution of Arabic calligraphy that did not only serve to copy Qur’an manuscripts but to also highlight its sacred and divine message, and until today continues to play a central role in the artistic heritage and expression of Islamic communities across the globe.”
Hamid D. Jafar, Chairman, Crescent Group of Companies, who has provided the masterpieces from his collection for the exhibition, recalls that he began collecting “over 40 years ago, while I grew to appreciate the beauty of Arabic calligraphy and the talent that created it.”
He adds that “over the past four decades, I have been fortunate to add numerous works spanning 14 centuries of Islamic civilisation tracing back to the spread of Islam from the Arabian Peninsula to North Africa and Asia.”
Among the 52 works being exhibited, in addition to a relevant painting and rug example from my art collection that reflect the same ethos, you will witness craftwork and beauty in design, demonstrating successive breakthroughs that are unique to the location and era in which they were produced, he concludes. “The works here presented are a journey through time, taking us across continents and historical moments. I hope you enjoy the journey!”
Although the Qur’an as a book or codex (Mushaf) has been the subject of scholarly research over several centuries, in recent decades the study and understanding of the enormously rich and varied written traditions of the Qur’an has advanced by leaps and bounds.
In 1976, during the World of Islam Festival in London, two exhibitions and accompanying catalogues invigorated the subject. The British Library held an exhibition titled “The Qur’an”, which included 152 important Qur’an manuscripts from the early Umayyad period to the nineteenth century CE (thirteenth century AH), while at the Hayward Gallery, a much larger general exhibition of Islamic art included 22 important manuscripts of the Qur’an.
The Qur’an manuscripts were sourced from museums and libraries all over the world, with many loaned from institutions in the Middle East. The same year saw the publication of Martin Lings’s The Qur’anic Art of Calligraphy and Illumination, which published a splendid selection of important and artistically impressive manuscripts of the Qur’an in chronological, regional, and dynastic categories – all illustrated in large, full-page illustrations in glorious colour.
Since then, and especially in the last two decades, more and more research has been carried out into numerous aspects of the history and art of Qur’an manuscripts, including palaeographic, calligraphic, codicological, chronological, regional, physical, and technical features.
The burgeoning research activity has been accompanied by an ever-growing list of publications, many of which are profusely illustrated, allowing a very much greater understanding of the subject than was the case 50 years ago.
However, despite the great proliferation of research in this field, much remains to be discovered, studied and understood. As part of the needed efforts, in parallel with the exhibition, SMA will roll out a number of educational activities that promote the study of the Qur’an and the role of museums as learning spaces. They include an array of walk-in family workshops that will continue throughout the duration of the exhibition.
The “Ornamentation of the Quran” and “The Aspiring Illuminator” workshops (Nov. 5 and 26) allows participants aged 13 to 17 to explore the intersection between language, identity, and culture. Visitors aged 18 and above can learn the fundamentals of Quranic ornamentations and gilding as a unique craft with artist Taghreed Al-Taei on December 7 and 8. To learn how to combine different Arabic scripts in creative artworks reflecting on the masterworks of Arabic calligraphy showcased at the exhibition, participants from all ages above 18 years can join artist Taghreed Al-Taei on January 4, 2023. And the “Islam is a Source of Inspiration for Diverse Cultures” panel discussion on February 8 next year will follow a tour of the exhibition, to highlight how has Islam inspired change and progress in many nations of the world.