Another Arabic Cliche Exhibition

The Spirit & Life exhibition, Masterpieces of Islamic Art from the Aga Khan Museum Collection

Location: Ismaili Centre, London. Until 31 August 2007.

The Khatt Foundation is not alone in its strife to present a better image of Arab culture to western audiences. Many organizations see the need to create cultural bridges that improve coexistence in our shrinking world.

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.

Manuscript from the Agha Khan collection - Manuscript from the Agha Khan collection, London

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.