I wasn't really aware that the MK&G had a complete Islamic art section but remembered that they had lots of ceramics on show. As a matter of fact, this is where I attended my very first pottery class at the age of about eleven or twelve. I did a pinch pot, a dove inspired by Picasso's ceramics and a standing Egyptian pharaoh figure. I was fantastic to have given the freedom to roam the museum unaccompanied except for the company of likeminded kids after closing time. I loved it!
Anyway, I left my own twelve year old to lounge on the sofas and explore the excellent Keith Haring poster exhibition while I went to explore some 'boring' (her words followed by "You cannot be serious!") pottery. What a pleasant surprise. The Islamic art section was excellent especially when it came to the way they displayed pottery.
The first room was entirely taken up by a display of pottery examples arranged to illustrate not only the different styles over the time of Islamic pottery found produced in different countries but also the influence porcelain from China had. Chinese pottery produced as early as the 8th century is thought to have influenced pottery production the Middle East. To imitate the white quality of Chinese porcelain the potters in there developed a white tin glaze during the 9th century. However, porcelain from China continued to pass through the Middle East region and thus continued to influence their pottery production.
The display starts with examples of pots from the 9th century Iraq and 10th century Iran illustrating the importance of script as decoration. At this stage the pots are all made from red earthenware clay and decorated with coloured engobes and slips under transparent glazes. I particularly like the way the lettering takes on a nearly abstract quality - at least for me who cannot read arabic. These pieces are decorated in Kufi style script or pseudo-script. Kufic script is an early stylised Arabic script used in writings in the Koran. It is very angular and has strong graphic qualities. For me the large white bowl on the left has definite aesthetic parallel qualities to some Native American pottery and decorations.
On the opposite side of this display case is a continuous display of pottery stretching from the 10th century to the early 18th century. I wish I had thought of taking a film of the display to show the continuity. This cobbled together slideshow will give you hopefully a good idea (even if the picture quality is a bit dodgy at times).
This was a brilliant start to the Islamic Arts display and I wish I'd had more time to spend. Here are a few more of the exhibits that caught my eye on the day: some of them because of their link to pottery and others because of their surface decorative qualities.
What becomes very clear is that due to the reluctance of using figurative imagery in Islamic art the use of patterns and their decorative qualities are universal to all items on display. Western art, which historically relied on painting and sculpture (until the advent of photography) valued naturalistic copying of nature and especially of the human figure. This approach resulted in a separation between the fine arts and crafts. This was not the case in Islamic art and there was no perceived divide between the decorative arts and 'fine art' where the intrinsic value would just be art for art sake. Many of the Islamic arts were closely linked to the celebration of Allah which is done by replicating verses from the Koran. Calligraphy was and is still today regarded as a high art form in Islamic art and can be seen incorporated into beautiful ways.