For the next 15 years, some of the most precious Islamic artefacts from one of the world’s largest private collections of Islamic art are being housed in the heart of Texas.
Holdings from the Keir Collection have been made available to the Dallas Museum of Art as part of a long term loan, “transforming the museum’s Islamic art collection into the third largest of its kind in North America,” according to the Museum.
A first exhibition from the collection — Spirit and Matter: Masterpieces from the Keir Collection of Islamic Art — presents a selection of over 50 works in various mediums, from rock crystal to paper, metalwork, ceramics, carpets, and textiles. The items span 13 centuries of art from the Muslim world, spread from Spain to Central Asia.
Included among them is an ewer carved from rock crystal — a remarkable object dating back to the late 10th to 11th century Fatimid period in Egypt. “The Fatimid ewer is among the world’s greatest treasures, and we are privileged and grateful to be responsible for its care and presentation,” says Maxwell L. Anderson, former director of the Museum.
Spirit and Matter was introduced in September 2015 with a lecture by the exhibition’s organiser Dr Sabiha Al Khemir. The evening opened with a special performance by the Ismaili Muslim Youth Choir of Dallas.
“The choir’s approach is to create awareness about pluralism through musical expressions inspired by various global traditions and Islamic cultural heritage,” says Fez Meghani, one of the choir’s directors. “They showcase very engaging — at times intriguing — takes on both traditional and contemporary voice pieces.”
» Listen to an audio recording of the choir’s performance and Dr Sabiha Al Khemir’s lecture at the Dallas Museum of Art website
The choir performed two pieces, Profit & Loss — inspired by a children’s book published by the Aga Khan Museum — and The Name. Both poetically expressed the concepts of spirituality, ethics, diversity, and pluralism in Persian, Arabic and English.
“This community — the Ismaili community — is a community of peace and love and volunteerism that is at the essence of selflessness,” said Dr Al Khemir at the start of her lecture. A senior advisor for Islamic Art at the Dallas Museum of Art and a professor of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas, she lauded the choir’s performance and the community's historic contributions to the arts and humanities.
Dr Al Khemir, who was instrumental in bringing the Keir Collection to the Museum, hoped that its acquisition and the newly opened exhibition would raise awareness about the beauty and diversity of Islamic art, and the universality of values expressed through its artifacts. These themes fit harmoniously, she noted, with the messages contained in the devotional literature performed in song by the Ismaili Muslim Youth Choir.
During the next hour, Dr Al Khemir presented slides about the pieces on exhibit, including drawings, metalwork, ceramics, and textiles, to showcase the diversity and beauty of Islamic heritage. She focused on the Fatimid rock crystal ewer to highlight the intellectual and pluralistic tradition of the Fatimids.
“His Highness the Aga Khan, whom I had the honour and privilege to hear in Paris,” she recalled, “speaks of pluralism, of diversity, of modernity — it is a voice that brings hope to us all.”
The Spirit and Matter exhibition will be on display until July 2016 at the Dallas Museum of Art.