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Review: Beauty and Belief at the IMA

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Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, "VAV + HWE" (included in Beauty and Belief
  • Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, "VAV + HWE" (included in Beauty and Belief

Sabiha Al Khemir, the Tunisian art history expert who compiled the 200-piece exhibition Beauty and Belief, which premiered at Brigham Young University in February, is fond of repeating a saying of the Prophet Mohammed, "God is beautiful and loves beauty." While his exhibition includes items of common, everyday use as well as massive scrolls and tapestries, common concerns such as the oneness of God and the celebration of beauty in all its forms and instances infuse the journey with a remarkable consistency.

It's a consistency across a diversity: Islam has spread across continents and countries over the course of centuries, and cultures from Indonesia to Spain are represented in the show, with everything from ancient fragments to massive textiles telling a story of courage, conquest and faith.

The concept of infinity informs "VAV + HWE," a 1972 acrylic on canvas piece by Iranian artist Charles Hossein Zenderoudi that blends warm orange and red tones in a circular pattern that seems unending. In Islam, repetition, whether seen in massive tapestries found in the exhibit, or 20th century work like Zenderoudi's, is viewed as a way to draw closer to God. This concept is reinforced by the exhibition's soundtrack featuring the quiet, rhythmic chanting of Islamic prayers.

Anonymous artisans, perhaps inspired by Mohammed's celebration of beauty, have left us a surfeit of everyday items transformed into pieces of quiet and enduring beauty, such as an earthenware bowl from Iran dating to the 13th century and titled here as "Bowl with Animals." Despite, or because of, its quotidian origins, it's an unforgettable masterpiece, with its stunning shades of blue and detailed paintings of animals.

The concept of the interconnectedness of all things is amplified by several ancient calligraphic scrolls in the show, one dating to 14th or 15th century Syria or India. Ink, watercolor and gold were used to write words within words across the canvas as an allusion to the Islamic concept that nothing is complete on its own, everything being part of a larger whole.

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