The Aga Khan foundation is a leader of the world's 15 million Ismaili Shia Muslims and organizer of a recent exhibition in the Ismaili Centre in London entitled The Spirit & Life exhibition, Masterpieces of Islamic Art from the Aga Khan Museum Collection. The exhibition shows exquisite examples of the rich Arabian visual culture in an attempt to erase the ignorance and promote a positive understanding about the Muslim world in the West. The Aga Khan foundation sees this latter issue as a major problem in creating good relationships between eastern and western societies.
This attempt is undoubtedly sincere, however it regrettably confines what we see in the west of Arab culture to exotic artifacts that belong to another world and a distance past. It also reasserts two untrue cliches about the Arab world. First, the Muslim world is not identical with the Arab world (namely, there are non-muslim Arabs and non-Arab muslims). Second, by only highlighting historical and traditional craft, the contemporary Arab culture is being denied representation. This does not lead to better understanding of today's realities and certainly is not very encouraging to living artists and designers in the Arab world that are trying to express themselves and forge liberal perceptions about their true identities.