x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Shows capture the spirit of Ramadan

The arrival of Ramadan triggers a very special kind of cultural event that comes along only during the holiest month of Islam.

A Kaaba door hanging from 1790 is one of the works on display at the Islam: Faith and Worship exhibition at the Emirates Palace.
A Kaaba door hanging from 1790 is one of the works on display at the Islam: Faith and Worship exhibition at the Emirates Palace.

Farjam Collection DIFC, Dubai from August 19

Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre Mall of the Emirates August 26 - September 25

Dubai International Art Centre Dubai August 15 - September 16

Gallery One Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi until October 10

Ramadan arrives this week, heralded by a set of exhibitions that focus attention on Islam's rich artistic heritage. On Wednesday, the Farjam Collection is exploring the linked arts of calligraphy and illumination by displaying a group of Quranic manuscripts belonging to the Iranian businessman Farhad Farjam, a man whose tastes range over the whole history of Islam, through the annals of abstract expressionism and into Warhol's Factory. One looks forward to seeing what the gallery will come up with when all the obvious families of association are exhausted and it has to start exploring the subliminal links between its proprietor's enthusiasms. For now, though, his impressive-sounding collection of manuscripts ought to make a suitably intriguing show in its own right. The earliest exhibits date from the third-century AH: loose parchments of the sacred text in oddly spacious Kufic script hail from early medieval Mesopotamia. Other treasures include a fragment from a Quran that belonged to the 15th-century scholar (and, lest we forget, grandson of Timur, alias Tamburlaine the Great) Prince Baysunqur. And there are pieces of Kaaba curtain. It ought to be very interesting.

There's more calligraphy at Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre. Kalimat (the name translates as "words") opens on August 26 and offers 50 traditional and contemporary takes on the art, produced by emerging artists from all over the map. The Gulf is well represented, of course, but there are also contributions from India, the US and Australia. "It's a beautiful art form," Fathima Mohiuddin, Ductac's special projects manager, explains. "We want to show how artists from different cultures have really developed on it." To judge by the previews, at least a few of those artists have developed along the same lines as Farouk Lambaz: dreamy ink washes, abstract tangles of graphemes piling into banks or dissolving into the air, the general sense of rolling fog on a sea of alphabetti spaghetti. It's lovely stuff, but it will be interesting to see if anyone goes the Nja Mahdaoui route instead. The Tunisian artist approaches Arabic calligraphy in roughly the way Wyndham Lewis did portraiture, producing texts of clanging vibrancy and martial vigour. It's a rare strain in contemporary calligraphy, most of which seems to be aiming for meditative effects, and all the more to be encouraged for that reason. If you see some, buy it at once.

If, however, these straitened times mean your budget doesn't run to it, don't despair. You may still be able to snap up something you like at the Dubai International Art Centre. The DIAC's members, both amateur and professional, have been working in the fields of calligraphy, arabesque and local landscape. The media may be mixed; the prices, we are assured, are uniformly reasonable. Finally, last month saw the opening of Adach's big Ramadan show, Islam: Faith and Worship, which is showing at Gallery One in the Emirates Palace until October 10. I previewed it in this section three weeks ago, but it remains a great show. The heart of it is a tremendous assortment of religious treasures from some of Turkey's most venerable collections, including several items that haven't been permitted to leave Turkish soil - or even the Pavilion of Sacred Objects at Istanbul's Topkapi Palace Museum - in centuries. There's also a sword thought to have been fashioned from the metal of the Prophet Mohammed's tomb; a beautifully embroidered Kaaba curtain; velvet litters for transporting gifts on camelback to Mecca, and more carpets; miniatures, engravings and tiny treasures of craftsmanship and devotion than can easily be numbered. The theme of the show is the fundamentals of Islamic belief and practice - not a bad thing to get in touch with this Ramadan.