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ISLAMIC ART AND REGIONAL INFLUENCES

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Have you been looking up Islamic art online? Are you searching online Islamic art? Well, how about getting down to the fundamentals? What exactly is ‘Islamic art? Chiefly, it refers to Arabic calligraphy, which is an artistic style of writing. If the source of the text written in calligraphy is the Quran, or the Hadith, or if the text is inspired by Islamic scripture, then Arabic calligraphy becomes more or less synonymous with Islamic calligraphy. Even as Arabic calligraphy is the mainstay of Islamic art, the latter also comprises artefacts, symbols and structures that have no religious value  such as geometric and floral motifs, arches, domes, carpets, lamps and ceramic artefacts. They are nevertheless included in ‘Islamic art’ as their use flourished under Muslim-ruled territories.

In fact, a more appropriate definition of Islamic art is ‘art that originated in Muslim empires covering a vast geographical territory from Spain in the west to India and parts of China in the east’. Such art, elucidates architectural historian Elizabeth Macaulay Lewis in her essay ‘Arts of the Islamic world’, “refers not only to works created by Muslim artists, artisans, and architects or for Muslim patrons.” “It encompasses works created by Muslim artists for patrons of any faith, including—Christians, Jews, or Hindus—and the works created by Jews, Christians, and others, living in Islamic lands, for patrons, Muslim and otherwise.”

Going by the above definition, ‘Islamic art’ includes regional and cultural imprints of the places over which Muslims were ruling. Muslims administered many geographies that were culturally apart – like Spain, Turkey, Iran, India, among others. The regional cultural specifics of each of these places had a bearing in the art being made there. The Great Mosque of Xian, one of the oldest mosques in China, is strikingly distinct from the Sultan Ahmet Mosque in Istanbul which in turn has little similarity to the Jama Masjid in Delhi, India. By the same logic, carpets crafted in Iran are separable from those made in India or Turkey. Arabic calligraphy too has regional fonts – the simple Nast’aliq style of Iran, the decorate Diwani font of Turkey, and free-style Tughra art found in India.

Since Islamic art made at different places carries regional cultural imprints, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, renamed its new galleries of Islamic art as ‘Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia.’

In a digitally connected world, one can now find online Islamic art from different regions on a single ecommerce platform. Islamic art online from India can be bought, at the click of a button, by a buyer in Canada, which has several immigrant Muslims but no history of Islamic art. One can fine Islamic art online on not just ecommerce site, but also social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. Because of the increasing competition, Arabic calligraphy is now mostly affordable: when framed, it makes for a wonderful gift as well as a spiritual reminder or an artistic expression of your belief that you can display in your home or office.