ISLAMIC ART AND REGIONAL INFLUENCES

Have you been reading about Islamic art online? Online Islamic art articles are many. But let’s talk about the basics. What does ‘Islamic art’ mean to you? Arabic calligraphy in which Quranic verses are written artistically? Islamic calligraphy is the most prominent aspect of Islamic art, but the term is actually much wide-ranging and comprises several artefacts, symbols and structures that have no religious significance, like geometric patterns, arches, domes and minarets, as well as carpets, lamps and ceramic pottery or tiles.

Therefore, the more inclusive 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, as architectural historian Elizabeth Macaulay Lewis wrote 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.”

‘Islamic art’, though the term does not suggest as such, includes regional and cultural influences of the places where it flourished. Muslims ruled varied territories – Spain, Turkey, Persia, India, China, etc, and the local cultural styles of each of these places played an important part in the art created there. The Great Mosque of Xian, one of the oldest mosques in China,  is very different from the Blue Mosque in in Turkey which in turn has little resemblance to the Jama Masjid in Delhi, India. Within carpets too, Persian varieties are different from Kashmiri or Turkish ones. Arabic calligraphy too has distinct regional styles –the simple Nast’aliq style of Iran, the elaborate Diwanifont of Turkey, and figurative writing found in parts of India.

As Islamic art was and is influenced by local cultural ethos, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, did not use the term ‘Islamic art’ when it renamed its new galleries of Islamic art. Instead, it called them ‘Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia,’ thus highlighting the regional and cultural influences.

In globalised times, Islamic artis witnessing interesting times. Regional Islamic arts are actually global now as one can buy Islamic art online from anywhere in the world. An ayatwritten in the form of a boat in India can be bought, at the click of a button, by someone in Canada, home to a big immigrant Muslim population but no with no history of Islamic art. Indeed, online Islamic art is easily available and accessible to anyone. Tech-savvy users are well-aware of the regional aspects of the artworks they buy. Exotica is, in fact, an attractive selling point too. Therefore, even as ‘Islamic art’ may be used as a blanket term, even those looking for Islamic art online in order to decorate their homesare aware of the regional influences that go into it.

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