Three exhibitions on Islamic art and culture open this month at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution's national museum of Asian art on the Mall.
* "Imaging the Word: Selections of Calligraphy from the Islamic World," which opens Nov. 17 and continues through May 7, presents 30 works representing 1,000 years of Islamic writing and drawing. Islam prohibits the reproduction of images that might be construed as objects of worship, and many generations of Islamic artists have chosen to present their themes in words rather than images to avoid charges of idolatry.
The works in this show--on paper, parchment, textiles, coins, gemstones, metalwork and wood--are inscribed with Persian and Arabic texts that date from the 9th century to the present. They demonstrate how different calligraphic styles have been used for communication and embellishment. A tiny Koran, about 2 by 3 1/2 inches, is the smallest known example of an angular script known as "Kufic."
* "Constructing Identities: Recent Works by Jananne al-Ani" runs from Nov. 21 through Feb. 28 and is the Sackler's first show by a contemporary artist from the Islamic world. The exhibition features photographic prints and slides by 33-year-old al-Ani, who was born in Iraq to an Iraqi father and Irish mother and now lives in England.
Some of al-Ani's images are huge, 4 by 6 feet, and use modern female subjects to challenge "commonly held Oriental-female stereotypes," according to a press statement. Such cliches include the "mystery and exoticism that Westerners commonly associate with veiled women of West Asia," largely because of work by turn-of-the-century photographers.
* One of those photographers, Antoin Sevruguin, an Iranian, is featured in a companion show that opens at the Sackler Nov. 21 and continues through May 28.
"Antoin Sevruguin and the Persian Image" includes 50 photographs of rulers, courtiers, commoners and daily life in Iran from the late 1870s to the 1930s. The original prints and negatives were selected from the largest collection of Sevruguin's work--nearly 900 images housed in the archives of the Sackler Gallery and neighboring Freer Gallery of Art.
The Sackler Gallery is at 1050 Independence Ave. SW. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, except Christmas. Admission is free.