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Film Highlights Islamic Art's Contribution to World Culture (David Byrd, June 28, 2012, Voice of America)
The film is not an exhaustive treatment of Islamic art - though it's high-definition video and interviews with scholars are more than a taste of the subject. Through compelling visuals and narration, the film breaks Islamic art up into several categories: The Word, Space, Ornament, Color and Water. Each category is used to illustrate how Muslim artists of the past 1,400 years have used various art forms to express their faith.

The film explores the motive behind the beauty of Arabic calligraphy - including quotes from the Quran - something Michael Wolfe says was a driving force in much of the art featured.

"You know, the language - the written language of Arabic arrived on the scene about the same time as the Quran," said Wolfe. "The codification of the Quran became the inspiration for developing a written language. So it comes from a very spiritual place. And very early on in the development of the written language people tried to make it beautiful."

Islamic Art also features several striking examples of Islamic architecture. The Alhambra Palace, the great mosques of Damascus and Cordoba, the Shaykh Lutfallah mosque and the Taj Mahal highlight the film with their use of geometric, zoomorphic, and floral designs, their striking colors, and their intricate patterns.

Producer Michael Wolfe says he hoped to show how Muslim artists thought design and beauty were important in all objects - from grand buildings to everyday items like bowls or plates.

"So you might say that the language of art in Islamic culture is purveyed through just about every daily and minor and tiny and vast expression you can think of," he said. "It makes for a wonderful kind of variety and diversity in the work."

The film also touches on the use of geometric patterns in Islamic art, and the importance of geometry to the faithful - from orienting a mosque towards Mecca, to navigation in the desert and on the sea, to its use in designing and creating elaborate interior courtyards, domes, and ceilings meant to evoke a vision of paradise.

That vision of paradise carries through the film's discussion of color, ornament and water as well. Viewers are shown artisans weaving elaborate textiles and making delicate pietra dura ornaments. Also, they are taken to lush gardens stimulating the senses with fruit trees, shrubbery, fountains, water channels and flowers.

Even the mud bricks and scaffolding of the great mosque at Djenné in Mali - with long shadows cast across its exterior - evoke a sense of a place set aside for a unique experience with the numinous.


The film airs on PBS on July 6th, but we've seen a sneak preview and it's lovely.

Members of The Box (we have some invitations available) can also check out The Hidden Art of Islam, which focuses on older Islamic works that depicted humans, and Paradise Found - Islamic Architecture and Arts, hosted by the wonderful art presenter Waldemar Januszczak.

(Reviewed:01-Jul-12)

Grade: (B+)

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