What happens to creativity in an artistic tradition without icons? We know – too well – that depictions of living human and animal forms are extremely controversial in Islam. So what’s left? How do those of us used to a figurative narrative format make sense of and understand the value of what we are seeing in Islamic art?
Just over a year ago I heard the Metropolitan Museum’s Curator of Islamic Art, Navina Najat Haider, speak on this very topic during an “Icons”-themed TEDx event. Haider notes that Islamic art has evolved over fourteen centuries and because of this the issue of icons is “not a pedantic art historical point, it is a mindset.” She makes a compelling case for the increased importance of abstraction and metaphor in Islamic art in the absence of an icon as a single point of focus. Her complete talk is below; newsletter readers click here to watch the video.
Be sure to watch through to the end to witness the extraordinary craftsmanship that went into the creation of the Met’s recently renovated Islamic galleries. How can we think of missing depictions of the figure of man when the hand – and infinite creativity – of humankind is on display all around us?
Further reading: Figural Representation in Islamic Art