Gift Giving Highlights Arab Culture
By Susan V. Gonzalez
From left to right: Aramco Services Co. (ASC) President Ahmed Alzayyt along with ASC Public Affairs Director Mae Mozaini and Public Affairs Representative Alma Kombargi are pictured at the exhibit preview party for the art exhibition “Gifts of the Sultan: The Art of Giving at the Islamic Courts” hosted by patrons of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. ASC was one of the key sponsors of the exhibition which took place in only two major U.S. cities, Los Angeles and Houston.
Saudi artist Ahmed Mater has one of his well-known pieces of work featured in the exhibition.
Image credit: Ahmed Mater, Saudi, born 1979, Illumination Diptych (Ottoman Waqf) 2010 Gold leaf, tea, pomegranate, Dupont Chinese ink and Offset x-ray film print on paper. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Edge of Arabia and the artist. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA
It has been said that a picture represents a thousand words. In the case of the recent Aramco Services Co. (ASC) sponsored exhibition “Gifts of the Sultan: The Art of Giving at the Islamic Courts” held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, it was gifts that were used to represent Arab culture.
More than 200 pieces of various objects of art such as ceramics, textiles, jewelry, furniture, decorative arms and armor and manuscripts make up a unique collection that explores the universal tradition of gift giving and its significance to Arab culture. This is the first Islamic art exhibition of this scope and pieces were assembled from 40 institutions worldwide. The exhibition is divided into three sections: personal gifts given from one ruler to another as a token of friendship or celebration, religious gifts to mosques and shrines as a symbol of devotion and diplomatic gifts.
Many of the most impressive examples of Islamic art can be classified as “gifts” and the exhibition brought together these pieces to serve as an example of the importance and cultural significance of gift exchange within Arab culture. The exhibition spans the 8th through 19th centuries with works from three continents.
“This is a good example of our commitment to cultural bridging,” said Mae Mozaini, director of ASC Public Affairs. She added that the exhibit focuses on cultural similarities rather than differences regarding the Islamic world. “Gift giving is a common practice shared by most cultures so it establishes a common ground.”
Within the exhibit, prominent Saudi artist Ahmed Mater is featured with his work “Illumination Diptych” (Ottoman Waqf). Mater, from Abha, is both an artist and practicing physician. This is one of his earliest and well-known bodies of work which combines his modern life as a doctor with a strong spiritual sense using decorative illuminated borders, headings and verse markers in from manuscripts of the Qur’an. The diptych, a description for artwork consisting of two painted or carved panels hinged together, shows two X-ray images of human torsos facing each other and includes the word waqf often found in manuscripts of the Qur’an indicating a charitable donation. The artwork is intended to inspire and “illuminate” the benefits of human interaction and exchange, making it an ideal piece of artwork for this exhibit.
The exhibition was made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities and as well as other arts councils and foundations. While the exhibition was international in scope, it took place at only two U.S. locations, Los Angeles, California and Houston, Texas. ASC was one of the key sponsors who made the presentation of the exhibition in Houston possible. ASC President Ahmed Alzayyt as well as ASC Public Affairs representatives attended a preview event hosted by the patrons of the Houston museum. “We are exploring the possibility of bringing this exhibition to other parts of the world, including Saudi Arabia,” said Mozaini.