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Indepth Arts News:

"The Allure of the East: Islamic Decorative Arts and European Orientalist Paintings"
1999-10-03 until 1999-11-28
Brooks Museum of Art
Memphis, TN, USA United States of America

Rich in history, the lands of the Near East have produced magnificent decorative arts prized by collectors throughout the world for centuries. Textiles, metalworks, pottery and other forms have displayed the brilliant mastery of ornaments which has blossomed under the penetrating influence of Islam in these lands. The Touma Collection, assembled by Syrian emigres Drs. Joseph and Omayma Touma, includes a number of outstanding examples representing the timeless artistic traditions that exist within the region.

Complementing these pieces are works by European artists who were fascinated with the culture of these lands during the 19th century. At that time, many artists attempted to capture the essence of lands that were considered exotic in custom and belief, often resulting in romanticized images that failed to present a true picture of the region's culture and people. The Touma Collection thus offers a unique look at the region from two perspectives. One bearing the indelible mark of an ideology that exists within the culture, and the other reflecting views of an alien culture by outsiders.

Islamic craftsmen developed great skills in the art of calligraphy, a central feature in the ornamental designs applied to the objects they made. The Arabic alphabet, because if its inseparable connection with the Koran, was utilized throughout the Islamic world to decorate and invigorate objects, ranging from ceramics to textiles. In addition to calligraphy, pure ornamental forms, consisting of geometric, floral and botanical designs were utilized in the swirling, intertwined abstract forms that became known in the West as arabesque. The Touma Collection features outstanding examples of decorated metalwork, pottery, books, weapons, furniture, textiles and other objects which utilize these wide-ranging decorative techniques.

Orientalist paintings continued to be popular among European artists throughout the 19th century, especially those realist painters who had been trained in the ateliers of academic painters such as Jean Louis Gerome. Genre scenes which portrayed everyday life in the region became very common. Achieving an authentic picture of the area became a goal in the works of many of these artists. The Touma Collection contains many fine examples of these genre paintings, most of which were formerly in the collection of Malcolm Forbes. These works attempted to represent a documentary portrait of life in the Islamic world, and although they were certainly affected by the colonial attitudes of the artists, they nevertheless offer an important record of encounters between divergent cultures.


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