A Piece of Heart and a Piece of Art: Damascus Room

Damascus Room, Syria, Damascus, 1766-67/ AH 1180, Wood (poplar) with gesso relief, copper and tin leaf, glazes and paint, plaster with stone paste inlays, and multicolored stones; installation (approx) 240 x 180 x 144 in.© Museum Associates/LACMA

The story began in the fall and early winter of 2011-12, when Linda Komaroff, Curator and Department Head at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), decided to pursue an acquisition of a period room from eighteenth-century Damascus, Syria. Komaroff is one of the people who makes LACMA a very unique institution. In Unframed post titled Preserving Small Piece of Damascus, Komaroff describes the new acquisition:

The Damascus Room came to signify more than the unique opportunity to acquire a rare work of art that would become a destination for museum visitors but the very embodiment of what LACMA is as an encyclopedic art museum. Although the room was removed from Syria nearly thirty-five years ago, the notion that we would be helping to preserve a small part of the cultural history of one of the world’s oldest, continuously occupied cities, intensified my interest in bringing the room to Los Angeles so that its story can be told and appreciated in this twenty-first-century city.

The room was dissembled in 1978 from one of the courtyard houses located in the al- Bahsa district, which was later demolished in order to accommodate the growth of the city of Damascus. The room was then exported from Syria to Beirut, Lebanon where it remained in storage for over 30 years. It somehow made its way to a London warehouse where it was found by Komaroff. Although the room was maintained in its original state, some restoration was required and an armature was created to make the room self-supporting so that it could be installed in an already-existing space or reinstalled elsewhere. Komaroff describes the Damascus Room thusly:

Damascus Room, Syria, Damascus, 1766-67/ AH 1180. © Museum Associates/LACMA

It has multicolored inlaid stone floors, painted wood walls, elaborate cupboard doors and storage niches, a spectacular arch with plaster voussoirs decorated with colored inlays that served to divide the room into upper and lower sections separated by a single tall step; and an intricately inlaid stone wall fountain with a carved and painted hood. The painted wood surfaces are embellished with a particular type of relief decoration known in Arabic as al-‘ajami (“meaning non-Arab or foreign”) or as pastiglia in the West.

The restoration work was undertaken in collaboration with Saudi Aramco’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture and with the support provided by the Friends of Heritage Preservation, LACMA. The reassembling of the Damascus Room was a two-year project completed in December 2015. The room was on display at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia from 2016–2018 and will be returned to Los Angeles to tell its story to a new audience.The reconstruction of the Damascus Room has been one of the Linda Komaroff’s curatorial career:

Being in the room is a joy; it exudes a kind of beauty, warmth and comfort, which is in keeping with its original function as a place for welcoming guests. But that joy is tempered by the sadness of the continuing deterioration of daily life in Syria, the diaspora of its citizens, and the destruction of its historic monuments. For now, the room must play one more role as a preserver of memories of Syria, as so beautifully expressed by the Syrian-American hip-hop artist and poet Omar Offendum, whose performance* was recorded in the room.

* Video attribution: www.lacma.org

 

 

New Exhibition: If Walls Could Speak: the History of Morrice Hall

If Morrice Hall’s walls could speak, you would hear the story of faculty and students of the Presbyterian College of Montreal, of wounded soldiers returning from war overseas, and of members of the International Labour Organization seeking a safe space to work during war-time.

Morrice Hall interior during International Labour Organization occupation (1940)

Today home to McGill’s Islamic Studies Library, the Institute of Islamic Studies, and the English department’s Tuesday Night Cafe Theatre, Morrice Hall was built in 1882, as a home for the Presbyterian College. Named in honour of David Morrice, then-Chairman of the College’s Board of Management and generous donator of $80,000, Morrice Hall was an extension to the original College building, itself built in 1873.

Drawing of Morrice Hall – Presbyterian College Journal, vol. 5, no. 3 (1885), p. 86

Presenting a mixture of photos, publications, plans, and maps spanning 135 years, If Walls Could Speak will take you through the major moments in the history of Morrice Hall: from its foundation, to expansion, to the interruptions of war, to the demolition of the original building and the renovations that created the space we know in 2018.

Curated by Islamic Studies Library’ staff -Ghazaleh Ghanavizchian, Jillian Mills, Anaïs Salamon-, this exhibit offers a unique experience making materials discoverable simultaneously in a physical display and on a touch table.

Touch Table Exhibit capture (2018) – credit: Greg Houston


Title: If walls could speak: the History of Morrice Hall
Dates: February 19, 2018-July 15, 2018, during opening hours
Location: Islamic Studies Library, 1st floor of Morrice Hall

Exhibition launch: Treasures from the McGill Ottoman Manuscripts Collection

Join us as we launch our exhibition Treasures from the McGill Ottoman Manuscripts Collection Thursday September 7th from 5 to 7 p.m.

Dr Aslıhan Gürbüzel, professor of Ottoman history at the McGill Institute of Islamic Studies, will talk about Ottoman Book Art and the display. The talk will be followed by refreshments served in the Octagon room.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

When :
Thursday September 7th, 5 p.m.
Where :
Islamic Studies Library
, 1st floor
3485, McTavish Street
Montreal, QC HA3 0E1
FB event :
https://www.facebook.com/events/265064857341848

Exhibition: Treasures from the McGill Library Ottoman Manuscripts Collection

Morrice Hall Islamic Studies Library, 1st floor, 3485 rue McTavish, Montreal, QC, H3A 0E1, CA

Established in Anatolia in the 13th century, the Ottoman Empire progressively expanded its domination to the Balkans, parts of Southeast and Central Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, and North Africa. At the beginning of the 17th century, the empire ruled over 32 provinces, and a population of approximately thirty million. Encircling the Mediterranean, with Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) as its capital, this incredibly powerful state remained at the center of interactions between the East and the West until 1922. The Ottoman Empire was a region of great demographic diversity including various ethnic, linguistic and religious groups; Arabs, Persians, Turks, Kurds, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Christians, Sunni and Shi‘i Muslims, among others all inhabited the area under Ottoman rule. Although the language used for official communication was Ottoman Turkish (Turkish written in Arabic script), Arabic –used for administrative, religious, literary and educational purposes–, and Persian –limited to literature and education– were also official languages. Earliest examples of Turkish illuminated manuscripts were produced in the period of the Anatolian Seljuks (13th century). Throughout the centuries, Ottoman scribes and bookbinders developed an Ottoman style of book decoration characterized by the fusion of divergent influences such as Byzantine, Mamluk, Persian, and Chinese.

This exhibition provides beautiful examples of traditional Ottoman handicrafts such as calligraphy (hat), illumination (tezhip), bookbinding (cilt), and paper marbling (ebru), and reflects book art trends of the period and region dominated by the Empire. The selection of manuscripts wouldn’t have been possible without the descriptions provided in two articles about McGill Library’s collections of Ottoman-Turkish manuscripts* and of Qur’anic Codices** authored by Dr. Adam Gacek.

The exhibition was, curated by Anaïs Salamon, Head of the Islamic Studies Library, with the assistance of Jillian Mills and Ghazaleh Ghanavizchian, Senior Library Clerks.

* Gacek, A., and A. Yaycioğlu (1998). “Ottoman-Turkish Manuscripts in the Islamic Studies Library and Other Libraries of McGill University.” Fontanus, vol. 10, 41-63.

** Gacek, A. (1991). “A collection of Qu’anic Codices.” Fontanus, vol. 4, 35-53.

New Exhibition: A Tradition in Transition: Lithography in Islamic cultural History

title-page-3During the last decade, the field of Arabic and Islamic studies focused on the revaluation and rediscovery of an extensive amount of sources, mainly in manuscript form, that bear witness to hereto neglected aspects of Arabo-Islamicate cultural history. More specifically, the re-appreciation and the unprecedented analyses of these manuscript documents has fostered the reassessment of outdated narratives surrounding the evolution of various Islamic disciplines, such as linguistic sciences (al-ʿulūm al-lughawiyah), logic (manṭiq) and rational and philosophical theology (ʿilm al-kalām and ḥikmah), mathematical and astronomical sciences (al-riyāḍiyāt, ʿilm al-hayʾah), and Quranic exegesis (tafsīr) and legal methodology (uṣūl al-fiqh). Accordingly, scholars in these fields of the Islamic intellectual tradition are paying increasing attention to unveiling this manuscript tradition. However, the majority of these sources are not available in modern editions, and access to a considerable part of these manuscript forms can often be hindered by various kinds of obstacles. Scholars and researchers are therefore often forced to limit the range and scope of their research according to the accessibility of that manuscript heritage.

img_20170120_093031825

It is however less known that in between the 19th and the 20th centuries, a good amount of that manuscript heritage has been produced and circulated in the form of lithographed copies, mainly within madrasa networks in the Arab world. Lithography in the Arabo-Islamicate intellectual panorama was more welcomed than typography because of several religio-cultural and socio-economic reasons, and filled an important gap between the manuscript and printing tradition that would follow. Lithography was still tightly bound to traditional handwritten manuscript production while offering the advantages the printing technology. Many among the most relevant works on linguistic sciences, rational and philosophical theology, mathematical and astronomical sciences, Sufism and Quranic exegesis and juridical methodology, executed by professional scribes and supervised by trained scholars, have become the tools of the madrasa tradition. The tradition and the production of lithographed books has received little attention despite their number and  relevance to the Islamic intellectual tradition Scholars and researches in the Arabo-Islamicate tradition are thus often unaware of not only the existence of lithography but also of their relative accessibility. Accordingly, a rigorous and thorough investigation into the tradition of the Arabic lithographed books will undoubtedly benefit many scholars in various fields of research.

img_20170120_093122214This exhibition is an attempt to highlight the richness and complexity of the lithographed book tradition and suggest the importance it can have in modern scholarship. It was curated by Giovanni Carrera, doctoral student at the Institute of Islamic Studies and Anaïs Salamon, Head of the Islamic Studies Library. The selection of titles has been possible thanks to the efforts of Dr. Adam Gacek, who first provided a description of the Islamic Studies Library’s collection of lithographed books at McGill University in his Arabic Lithographed Books in the Islamic Studies Library in 1996.

A Tradition in Transition: Lithography in Islamic Cultural History is accessible on the 1st floor of the Islamic Studies Library during opening hours.

New exhibition: illuminated Qur’ans from the McGill collections

MS RBD Arabic 29

MS RBD Arabic 29 – Rare Books and Special Collections

The Arabic writing used for setting down the sacred text of the Qur’an went under a diffusion corresponding to the expansion of the Islamic faith and to the development of the Islamic civilization. It belongs to the family of Semitic scripts, which are consonantal scripts vocalized by means of accents. The conditions of use and development of the Arabic writing were therefore determined by its association with the language it expressed. Although Arabic became a major academic and literary language, it experienced divergences of articulation and pronunciation in the colloquial use which affected the way in which it was written.

MS RBD Arabic 18 - Rare Books and Special Collections

MS RBD Arabic 18 – Rare Books and Special Collections

The archaic or primitive Arabic writing was used in Arabia at the beginning of Islam, from the Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime and during the caliphates of his immediate successors (632-660). From the very beginning, the Arabic script was associated with the religion of Islam, and became instrumental in the materialization and transmission of the divine message. In the 7th century, the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik imposed the use of Arabic to the central and provincial administration, and for the legends on coinage with calligraphic designs. This, in turn, led to two distinct paths in the development of the Arabic writing:

  • a utilitarian cursive script marked primarily by the requirements of legibility and speed, known as Naskh was used for state documents and correspondence
  • a dignified angular form purely aimed at the requirements of prestige, known as Kufic, was used for ornamental purposes (architecture and coinage) as well as for the copy of the divine message.
MS RBD Arabic 20 - Rare Books and Special Collections

MS RBD Arabic 20 – Rare Books and Special Collections

Until the 10th century, Qur’an were mainly written in Kufic script. This exhibition intends to show the influence of other scripts, such as Syriac, Turkish and Persian, on the Kufic calligraphic style, as well as a variety of styles and decorative techniques used in different periods of time and regions of the Muslim World.

The Qur’an exhibition was curated by Anaïs Salamon, Head Librarian, and Dr. Eliza Tasbihi, Senior Library Clerk at the Islamic Studies Library. It will be accessible in the Islamic Studies Library, Morrice Hall, 1st floor, during opening hours, from June 1st to December 31st, 2016.

McGill Islamic Lithographs digital collection now online!

The McGill Islamic Studies Library Collections include over 750 lithographed volumes in Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, Persian, and Urdu. These books were published between the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century in the Middle East (Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Turkey), North Africa (Morocco), and South Asia (India, Pakistan).

About The Collection

The McGill Library’s Islamic Lithographs digital Collection started with a selection of sixteen Arabic lithographed books, which were physically displayed in the Islamic Studies Library between February 1st and September 30th 2014. The collection now includes 56 titles, and is a continually updated resource.

Visitors can browse the collection by country of publication or language. All books are accessible full text, either in PDF on the McGill website, or using the online reader of the Internet Archive. Each lithograph is described in a detailed bibliographic record which includes a dynamic bibliographic citation:

Islamic Lithographs - Full RecordVisitors interested in learning more about the history of lithography in the Middle East and South Asia will find an extensive bibliography.

For more information, please contact the Islamic Studies Library, McGill University Library.

Strokes and Hairlines Digital Exhibition

As part of the 60th anniversary of the Institute of Islamic Studies and Islamic Studies Library, jointly founded in 1952 Mr. Adam Gacek curated an exhibition celebrating the unique materials held by McGill University. A catalogue of the exhibition, entitled Strokes and Hairlines: Elegant Writing and its Place in Muslim Book Culture was published. Mr. Gacek also provided an enthralling talk of the items on display. And now, we are proud to present you with a digital exhibition of these items.

Strokes and Hairlines Digital Exhibition

The digital exhibition contains all items that had been on display. Enjoy the site and let us know what you think.