By Anna Meany–
U of L, once again, offers a unique way for students to gain real-world experience right on campus. “Culture and Spirituality in the Art of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia,” opened Jan. 17, in the Hite Art Institute on campus. Students who took Exhibition Development, offered in the fall 2012 semester, were given the opportunity to gain first-hand experience curating the show.
The Art History Department calls it a “collaboration between the University of Louisville’s programs and departments of Middle East and Islamic Studies, Fine Arts, and Anthropology.” Peter Morrin, director of U of L’s Center for Arts and Culture, co-taught the course with John Begley, gallery director at the Hite. Morrin explains that the project was made possible through colleagues of the Anthropology and Art History department – he dubbed the final result as “deeply reflective of culture and religion.”
The exhibit’s pieces varied from weaved plates to tapestries, embroidered clothing and other traditional artifacts, showcasing numerous textiles and craftwork of all mediums. Every work is on loan from the Gray Henry collection; Henry’s collection represents a variety of unique artistic styles present in Islamic culture, showing the repetitive attention to floral decoration, arabesque design and bold use of color that captivates the viewer.
Amanda Chiara, senior Art History major at U of L, sat down with the Cardinal to discuss her involvement with the exhibit after taking the class.
Chiara says that the students’ involvement was all-inclusive and began with “fragments of ideas scribbled on a chalk board…to physically putting the nails in the walls to install the pieces,” a task she calls a “hands-on, hearts-in project.” Students were challenged to use their curatorial knowledge to produce the best possible show. She says the amount of pieces were a tough fit in the small gallery – they utilized every inch of the Hite, including the skylight and tall ceilings, to display the exhibit.
“Every moment working on this project was a learning opportunity.” Chiara says the exhibit wouldn’t have been possible without the great guidance and insight of her instructors.
The exhibit is organized by region to guide viewers. “From both a fine art and anthropological perspective it seemed to make the most sense for the audience to observe the pieces according to their region.”
Information concerning manufacture and historical importance and its use are written next to each object; the Hite says this is extremely helpful in contextualizing the pieces.
Mary Wallace, senior Art History major, and Umair Seyal, senior Pre-Dental student, attended the opening of “Culture and Diversity.”
Wallace explains that she has taken a class on Islamic Art History that developed her appreciation for the culture. “This exhibit does a great job of revealing both the religious and secular art of a very interesting and often miscontstrued people,” says Wallace. She explained that her favorite pieces had the most religious significance, such as the cloth made to cover the Kaaba. The Kaaba is a cube-shaped building and considered the most holy spot by Muslims. Textiles of the finest materials are woven each year to indicate its sacredness.
“Every guest that experiences the show also brings his or her own perspective to the objects and their stories. I learn something new every time that I hear an audience member’s reaction to the exhibit,” says Chiara, who was a walking art piece at the opening. She donned a traditional garment that was part of the collection.
Seyal, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan almost ten years ago, spoke of his personal connection to the exhibit. He called it an exhibition of his own culture, saying “there were hand-made fans that were used by me and my family in Pakistan to keep ourselves cool during the summer time.”
Chiara added that this is the most rewarding adventure of her undergraduate time at U of L, calling the collaboration between departments and students phenomenal.
“Culture and Spirituality” runs through Feb. 25 at the Hite Gallery on U of L’s Belknap campus.
Photos by Jessica Knebel/The Louisville Cardinal