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US to open first major Koran exhibition

Associated Press Associated Press 24/06/2016

The Koran, revered by Muslims, is the centrepiece of a first-of-its-kind exhibition in the United States.

The Smithsonian's Arthur M Sackler Gallery in Washington DC has announced that The Art of the Qur'an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts will display exquisitely decorated manuscripts from one of the world's top Koran collections.

The museum will bring 48 manuscripts and folios from the museum in Istanbul, together with manuscripts from the collection of the Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art, which are together the Smithsonian's museum of Asian art.

The exhibition is set to open on October 15, just weeks before the presidential election, until February 20, 2017.

Islam and the Koran may come up during debates and discussions, but Massumeh Farhad, chief curator at the Sackler and Freer and curator of Islamic art, says this exhibition is a chance to present a different story.

She calls it an opportunity to "focus on the importance of this as a work of art and importance in art history.


The Arabic text of the Koran was fixed as early as the late seventh century, Farhad said, but the variety in Korans is "staggering".

The exhibition will showcase different styles of calligraphy and illumination.

Visitors will be able to compare different Korans and "see the sweep of history in front of us", said Sheila Blair, an art history professor who specialises in Islamic art at Boston College and Virginia Commonwealth University.

"It shows how diverse the Muslim world is."

These Korans were commissioned by elites and created by artisans, but they also had second or third lives noted in inscriptions that reflect the history they witnessed, said Simon Rettig, assistant curator of Islamic art.

One Koran completed in 1307 for the tomb of Mongol leader Uljaytu in Soltaniyeh, Iran, was taken to Istanbul by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1531 and went to his relatives.

"This book has had more incredible moments than I've had in my life," Rettig said.


These Korans span nearly a millennium, dating from the late seventh or early eighth centuries (not long after the time of Muhammad) to the 17th century.


These Korans originally come from the Near East, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Iraq. In the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, the government transferred valuable artworks across the empire to Istanbul and they're now kept at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts.


The show is an opportunity for people to see these Korans up close in the United States and "reflect on their own assumptions," said Julian Raby, director of the Sackler and Freer.

He calls it a "fitting complement" to a 2006 exhibition of Bibles before the year 1000.

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