At Textile Museum, Islamic prayer carpets and Anne Lindberg installation show divine in many forms


“Oriental rugs,” as they are often known as, have been appreciated for hundreds of years for their splendor and artistry. Some serve a objective which is more than mere decoration for a floor or wall, nonetheless. “Prayer and Transcendence,” an exhibition at the George Washington University Museum and Textile Museum, focuses on Islamic prayer carpets, demonstrating how they share specific iconography that forms a common visual language throughout Muslim cultures, although also allowing for a variety of models and interpretations.

“[Carpets] are lovely objects, but they have meanings,” claims curator Sumru Belger Krody. “And if you are not from that society or faith, it’s more challenging to read them. This exhibition tells you how to read that indicating.”

The exhibition is a feast for the eyes, showcasing 20 carpets relationship from the 16th to 19th centuries and spanning lands from modern day-day Turkey and Iran by way of the Caucasus and Central Asia and into the Indian subcontinent. Extra than fifty percent are Textile Museum holdings, with the remainder on loan from four other collections.

The central aspect of Islamic prayer carpets is their directionality: Just about every features an archway close to which the relaxation of the style is composed. When laid on the floor with the arch oriented in the course of Mecca, the textile physically delineates an place for prayer. The rugs may well also be hung on walls to denote a place for worship.

Among the the most attractive functions on screen are those with imagery of gardens, symbolizing paradise. A beautiful piece from 18th-century Kashmir is a riot of colours and designs, showcasing a scalloped, curved archway flanked by cypress trees with a millefleurs area of assorted bouquets in the heart, all surrounded by a additional stylized floral border pattern. It was also created with particularly wealthy components: a combination of silk, cotton and pashmina wool.

“In the Quran, paradise is described in many sections as this huge, luscious back garden with bouquets, greenery, waters. … If you are living a pious life, you can enter,” Krody states. “These carpets variety of in miniature give you a glimpse of what [the afterlife] might be if you do the ideal detail.”

On the walls, strains from the Quran and pictures of mosques in international locations from which the rugs originate assist insert religious and cultural context.

The carpets array from an exquisite piece courting to 16th-century Iran that was produced with silk, wool and metallic-wrapped thread by weavers used by the Safavid shah’s court to less difficult rugs developed by rural females for household use. One particular significantly vivid example from the Caucasus has a sample of stylized, practically hexagonal paisleys in an array of shades.

“The layouts are made for [court] use, but then kind of go down the echelons and achieve the masses, staying imitated in a variety of distinctive methods,” Krody describes. Though styles mirror regional choices, they had been also influenced by obtainable components: Rural artisans commonly worked with wool that was not approximately as good as the silk frequently used by court weavers, primary to styles that have been much more geometric and significantly significantly less intricate.

Lamps, clearly modeled on the varieties of lights that ordinarily dangle in mosques, are yet another crucial motif, symbolizing divine light-weight. Right here the museum supplies a intriguing counterpoint to the prayer rugs through the inclusion of two carpets woven in the Ottoman Empire and made use of, instead atypically, in synagogues as parochets, or Torah ark covers, demonstrating the degree of mutual affect involving the empire’s Muslim and Jewish communities.

Just one of the ark addresses hangs up coming to an Ottoman prayer carpet with these types of equivalent design and style and iconography — a central archway with a lamp or flowers hanging from it concentric patterned floral borders — that it would be uncomplicated to interchange them have been it not for the Hebrew inscription at the top rated of the parochet.

Just upstairs from the carpets, a web site-unique set up by present-day American artist Anne Lindberg, “What Color Is Divine Light-weight?,” carries on the concept.

Lindberg’s luminous operate evokes a feeling of surprise. At initially look, it appears like an illusion established from anything intangible, this kind of as beams of gentle. In point, it was manufactured with hundreds of wonderful cotton threads on a color spectrum involving yellow and blue, stretched tautly in between two lavender walls and lit so that the get the job done appears just about psychedelic, vibrating from close up.

The installation aims to generate what researchers simply call “impossible colors” — imperceptible to the eye and mind — amongst the hues of the threads. In grappling with the impossibility of depicting the divine in bodily kind, the artist is responding to an unanswerable dilemma posed in an eponymous 1971 essay by artwork historian Patrik Reutersward.

“What Shade Is Divine Light?” invites contemplation the museum is also holding several interfaith and efficiency plans and encouraging quiet reflection in the house. On a latest Saturday, various Muslim women of all ages attending an Islamic calligraphy workshop held in conjunction with the carpet exhibition rolled out yoga mats that had been on hand and executed afternoon prayers.

Not only visually stimulating, the juxtaposition of Lindberg’s installation with the Islamic prayer carpets, together with the Torah ark addresses, helps make a superb scenario for the thought that the divine can be identified in numerous types.

What Coloration Is Divine Light?

George Washington College Museum and Textile Museum, 701 21st St. NW.

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