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New York Gets Its First Museum Devoted To Contemporary Islamic Art

May 23, 2017

An installation view of Exhibition 1 at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art (all photos © Charles Benton unless otherwise noted)

“It was inspired by my favorite mosque in the world … the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad,” he said. “Have you been there?” I asked. “No, no, but I’m dying to go,” he responded. Standing in the bookstore of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art on a bright day in Soho, this was how Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Al-Thani explained the angular logo for his recently established institute. The “I”s of the IAIA recall the pencil minarets of neo-Ottoman architecture and the “A”s evoke what Islamic art historian Kishwar Rizvi has called the Faisal mosque’s “tent-like spaceframe structure.” The transnational mosque, full of architectural allusions, gives way to the visual branding of this new transnational institute.

The IAIA opened its doors on May 4 with Exhibition 1 featuring four artists, Dana AwartaniMonir Shahroudy FarmanfarmaianNasreen Mohamedi and Zarina HashmiExhibition 1 is one room with four walls, each devoted to a single artist. The show consists of non-figural drawings and some photographs that relate to “Islamic” design and architecture. The institute has a gallery space and bookstore, and it aspires to organize quarterly exhibitions, travelling shows, artist residencies, and publications.

Farmanfarmaian, Mohamedi, and Zarina (who prefers to go by her first name) are all known entities in the art world with recent retrospectives in major museums, and Awartani, a younger artist, has been making waves at biennials. Current and former Guggenheim curators have been largely responsible for presenting these artists to the broader public. Sandhini Poddar’s Zarina: Paper like Skin (2013) at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, and Reem Fadda’s feature of Dana Awartani in her Marrakech Biennial Not New Now (2016) are two examples. Not long after the Guggenheim, came the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met featured Zarina in its recent exhibition Workshop and Legacy: Stanley William Hayter, Krishna Reddy, Zarina Hashmi (2016) and co-organized a retrospective with the Reina Sofia, Madrid, on Nasreen Mohamedi, for its opening of the Met Breuer (2016).