Is there a “revival” of Islamic arts?

As Islamic artistic principles become more visible across the world – both in theory and in practice – Muslim artists have sought to represent and teach their art within their own local contexts as evidence of their cultural heterogeneity.

Say “Islamic art” and what may come to mind is a geometric pattern you’ve seen on a mosque wall or a centuries-old Quran folio in a museum. But a global network of educators, artists and curators brings works of Arabic script calligraphy, tezhip (or manuscript illumination), ceramics and more to art buyers and students alike. who wish to acquire an artistic practice for themselves.

“Muslims do not necessarily know the richness of our heritage. For lack of knowledge, people are drawn to her.

Samira Mian is an Islamic geometry practitioner who teaches online and in the UK; it also maintains a sturdy Youtube channel where she uploads pattern tutorials. For her, “Islamic art” is a tenuous term.

On the one hand, the term does indeed act as a shorthand, “contextualizing the decontextualized”, responding to attempts to strip geometric patterns from everywhere from Morocco to South Asia, and on the other hand, it is broad, covering everything , calligraphy, paper cutting, and illumination of ceramics and glass work. Even non-visual arts like the recitation of the Quran are often considered “Islamic art”.

“As the concept of ‘Islamic art’ becomes more ubiquitous and artists gain visibility, especially on social media, the question of whether or not a revival is taking place can sometimes arise, along with the assertion that the arts are in decline.”

In a broad sense, “Islamic art”, as used in museums and in the art market, refers to the overall material culture of Muslim-majority societies, including works by non-Muslims . It is distinct from works of modernism and surrealism by Muslim artists who may address Muslim themes, although these artists may also identify with “Islamic art” as a source of inspiration or as a method.

Nigerian Arabic Script Calligrapher, Yushaa Abdullah also considers “Islamic art” as a general term that can be extended to multiple forms of visual art, but prefers “Arabic calligraphy” to describe his practice as both an artist and an educator, because the term is specific. He also likes the term because it links the craft to pre-Islamic Arabic scripts as well as non-Muslims who use calligraphy.

Calligraphic designs by Yushaa Abdullah for home use [N.A. Mansour]

Similarly, “Islamic art” is often used only with specific geographies: the Mashreq, the Maghreb, the Ottoman Empire, Iran and South Asia, excluding other geographies and populations. For example, the vast body of Arabic scripts from West and East Africa is not widely taught in online courses taught in Arabic and English.

According to Abdullah, no matter how limited the exposure of scripts outside of West Africa may be, West African Arabic scripts, modified from the Maghrebi style, are still a ubiquitous part of the Nigerian Muslim life: they are used in Koranic schools, local newspapers and notice boards.

learn the trade

Educational opportunities – beyond apprenticeships, which have, to some extent, been how artistic practice has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries – have grown over the past decade, helped in part by videoconferencing technology.

As a result, calligraphy, tezhip and many more are practiced by people who have never had the opportunity to practice before. Mian and Nagihan Seymoura UK-based Turkish tezhip artist and ceramicist, have mostly female students in their classes, from around the world, including Tanzania and Sri Lanka.

Seymour herself was trained by a tezhip artist in Istanbul when she was a university student in engineering and says she enjoys teaching as it allows her to share the art and pay for what her teacher has done for her.

Mian and Seymour both teach independently and in conjunction with other organisations, such as Harrow Arts Center and David Parr House, in the UK. Other educators, such as Abdullah, an American-born Palestinian-Malay Chinese calligrapher mohamed kaddouraand Iraqi surveyor Mohamad al-Janabialso built their centers around their work, often offering commercial services as well.

Ceramic Plate with Tezhip by Nagihan Seymour [N.A. Mansour]

Other arts centers that have sprung up in recent years, such as Alef Studio led by Iman Hamdieh and Omaima Dajani in Jerusalem, Palestine, bring a wide range of arts to their local community, instead of specializing in a single artistic practice. In addition to Arabic script calligraphy and Islamic geometry, they also offer music lessons and basic jewelry making for children.

Abdullah’s Abuja-based centre, run by IRCICA, the Research Center for Islamic History, Art and Culture, primarily attracts students through its network. The program has granted 11 ijaza students and hopes to enroll 50 students from across West Africa every two and a half years in a five-year program.

Abdullah specifically relates students’ motivation to seeing examples of calligraphic work by himself and others in their community. “Students became brave enough to take up calligraphy when they realized the work was done by our people; I mean, by their fellow black Africans.


As Islamic art has become more ubiquitous globally, it has created opportunities for artists to make a living from their artistic practice.

Business opportunities expand in other ways. Specifically, students need supplies to practice their craft and this is often a major challenge. Katarina Chovancova, a calligraphy student, started selling calligraphy supplies online in 2018 while trying to source supplies for her own calligraphy practice in Indonesia. She bought them in bulk and sold the ones she didn’t need on Etsy.

Today, the site of Chovancova Arcalliq continues to source calligraphy pens, ink, paper and more directly from the artisans who make them, giving them a greater share of the profits.

History of Islamic art

Along with the interest in the practice of art, there has also been an interest in the history of the arts from a wider sector of the global public, both from the Muslim-majority world and from North America. and Western Europe.

One of Yushaa Abdullah’s students, Haruna Yahya, with a wedding invitation he designed [N.A. Mansour]

Much of this interest is represented by the growth of different online publications and platforms showcasing Islamic art, such as art historian and tezhip teacher, Dr. Esra Alhamel’s podcast. illuminated art, Bayt Al-Fannotbased in Sarajevo Islamic Arts Magazineand a recent guest issue of Canadian arts magazine black flash.

Especially in the last three decades, a new generation of museums dedicated to Islamic art has been created all over the world, including the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and the Museum of Islamic Arts, Malaysia, established in 1998 and allegedly, the largest museum of Islamic arts in South Asia.

“You can’t describe [Muslim audiences] as “difficult to reach”. You have to give them something to engage with. Responsibility must rest with the institution.

Dr Neelam Hussain is Curator of Middle Eastern Collections at Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham. She is also part of a new project called the Museum of Islamic Arts and Heritage (MIAH) Foundationwhich aims to establish the first museum dedicated to Islamic art in the UK, largely in response to the way major institutions in the UK have treated Islamic art.

MIAH takes a community-centered approach to its programming. The project specifically aims to bring people of color into museum spaces built for them, as well as to recognize that, as Hussain says, the Muslim public is the expert on their cultural heritage.

MIAH is currently working on community engagement, as well as organizing local events and launching a website that will serve as both a resource and a venue to host mini exhibits.

The comeback?

As the concept of “Islamic art” becomes more ubiquitous and artists gain visibility, especially on social media, the question of whether or not a revival is taking place can sometimes arise, as well as the assertion according to which the arts are in decline. .

But one can wonder whether, in many societies, they have really disappeared; some industries have only more recently begun to feel the effects of industrialization. On the contrary, “decline” stories may very well be marketing ploys to advance one artist or workshop over another.

However, what is clear is that artists and educators like Abdullah, Hussain, Mian, Seymour and many others enjoy engaging with their students and passing on the art.

“The future is bright for me and my students,” Abdullah said to himself.

NA Mansour is a book, art and religious historian.

Follow her on Twitter: @NAMansour26

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