ArtLab @ The Lowe
Women, Windows, and the Word: Diverging Perspectives on Islamic Art
On view through April 22, 2012

The Lowe Art Museum, in partnership with the U.M. Department of Art and Art History, presents the third exhibition in the ArtLab @ The Lowe series, on view in the Richard and Shelley Bermont Focus Gallery. The Lowe’s innovative ArtLab program provides U.M. faculty and students the opportunity to organize an annual exhibition drawn from the Lowe’s permanent collection. The students work directly with objects from the museum’s collection of nearly 18,000 works of art, producing original research and curating a thematic exhibition that will be on display for a full calendar year.


For the Spring 2011 semester, Dr. Karen R. Mathews, Lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History, and her museum studies students explored the complex theme of Islamic art, concentrating on three distinct but intertwining themes: the role of Muslim women as creators and subjects of art, Western views of the Islamic world, and the importance of decoration and the written word.  As a group, the seven students who enrolled in ArtLab @ The Lowe (ARH 511) selected the themes for the exhibition, determined the works of art that best represented the topics examined, researched objects and wrote didactic materials, and designed the exhibition space from selecting paint colors to determining object placement within the gallery. 


The thirty-one works of art on display, all selected from the Lowe’s permanent collection, provide student curators and museum visitors the opportunity to gain vistas into Islamic art by contemplating it through a variety of thematic windows.  The first theme in the exhibition, “Disrupting Stereotypes of the Veil,” addresses the ways in which Muslim women are portrayed in modern and contemporary art.  Several of these artworks were produced by Muslim women, and these artists redefined imagery like the veil and calligraphy, not as instruments of control over women, but as key manifestations of female identity in the contemporary Muslim world.  In “Viewing the East through Western Windows,” images created by Westerners that address Western perceptions of the East are examined.  These images are representations of the East glimpsed through Western windows, manifestations of observation and ethnographic study at times, and cultural stereotypes and fantasy at others.  Finally, two central components of Islamic art – the word and ornament – are exhibited in “Decorating the Word, Illuminating the Image.”  In both religious and secular artworks, the word itself could become ornament and was accompanied by bright colors, rich textures, and complex patterns that manifested the skill of the artist and the harmony and symmetry of the natural world.


The ArtLab @ the Lowe series began in 2009 with an exhibition featuring printmaking from the Lowe’s collection as well as UM Student and Faculty work, and continued in 2010 with the exhibition, ArtLab @ The Lowe: The Changing Face of Art and Politics. Future exhibitions in the series will focus on the contemporary art of Japan (Spring 2012), the art of Panama (Spring 2013), and Spanish Colonial Art (Spring 2014). The exhibition series is generously underwritten by UM Alumnus Stella M. Holmes, president of Overseas Partners Realty.