THE West and also Islam are on a social collision course. That's the best-marketing fiction that many human being -- politicians, religious leaders and also the media on both sides of the equation -- are working overtime to revolve right into truth. Actually, it's an extremely old story, and art is regularly pulled right into it.

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Almethods, we hear Islamic art talked about in the means somepoint dubbed the "Islamic world" is talked around, as if it were unitary, untransforming, inscrutable and also over tright here. We hear that Islamic art is, by meaning, religious art, and we hear around its hostile partnership to the human image.

We acquired an earful of this via the furor over Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. The fact is, imeras of the Prophet abound in Islamic art and culture; the Metropolitan Museum has a number of examples in its Islamic arsenal. But unchoose the cartoons, such images are not caricatures.

The cartoon concern isn't mostly an art story, any even more than the destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya in India was an architecture story, or the cencertain of "The Satanic Verses" was a story about modern fiction. It's a political story, an ancient and universal one, around how an image, and also nearly any kind of picture will certainly carry out, once it is fsupplied to social identity -- Islam, in this case -- deserve to become used as a weapon.


As it happens, at the same time that intense partisan warm is being created roughly the topic of renowned imperiods and Islam, we are gaining a number of exhibitions of contemporary job-related to which the name "Islamic" is attached. Some reflects method the Islamic link hesitantly; others adopt it. With Each Other they tell us exceptionally different things around the reception of a social category dubbed "Islam" in the West.

By much the the majority of influential exhibition of modern art on the subject yet watched in New York opens up this particular day at the Museum of Modern Art. You would certainly never guess that subject, though, from its title -- "Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking" -- in which the word Islam does not show up.

All but three of the featured artists were born in some component of the so-dubbed Islamic world: Algeria, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestine and also Turcrucial. But they all live and work-related in the West and have actually made their careers in the mainstream international art scene, which implies in Europe and also the USA. In spite of their Western positioning, they are on a regular basis tagged as Islamic artists by an art civilization addicted to marketable categories. The question posed by the show's curator, Fereshteh Daftari, an assistant curator at the Modern who was herself born in Iran, is "How 'Islamic' is their art?"

Many of these artists are tagged Islamic because of their backgrounds. Yet a lot of their work is far much less about Islam itself, as a faith or society, than around their partnership to Islam -- in some situations it is close and positive; in other instances, distant and instrumental. But in the majority of instances, it is ambivalent -- the oppowebsite of just how Islam is treated these days in the bigger civilization.

In these functions, images and creates connected via Islam, much from being sacrosanct, are invitations to individualistic and unorthodox experimentation, to research and also play with Islamic identity without being confined to it.


Several artists, for example, tap right into miniature painting, a primarily secular heritage. Raqib Shaw, born in 1974 in Calcutta, increased in Kashmir, and also educated in London, developed astonishingly ornate, cloisonné-style paints that borrow from Persian miniatures, however likewise from Hieronymus Bosch, Jackchild Pollock and Kashmiri shawl trends, to produce a realm of subaqueous eroticism.

Anvarious other instance are the immaculately executed paintings of Shahzia Sikander, who was born in 1969 to a Muslim family members in Pakistan. They combine courtly Mughal and Rajput themes -- portraits of rulers and also dancers -- via images of fighter jets, oil rigs, mosque domes, predatory pets and also paradise gardens, as if telescoping connected, damaging histories.

Ms. Sikander stupassed away miniature painting in art institution in Lahore, and radically transcreated the tool after relocating to the United States, adding individual and also political content. Her new work met with disapproval in Pakistan, where she was accprovided of, among various other things, pandering to Western taste. Yet a number of younger Pakistani artists have actually freshly adhered to her lead.

Six of them are mirroring at the Aldwell-off Conshort-lived Art Museum in Ridgearea, Conn., (with March 12) as a collective dubbed Karkhana, which the artists formed as an activist gesture in response to the political and also spiritual aggression global after Sept. 11. Only one stays in Lahore now. The others are in Chicago, New York and also Melbourne, Australia.

They collaborate by mail, each artist including new elements to paints once they get them. The images incorporate Mughal dress patterns; New York subway maps; amorous couples; Western political leaders as clowns and also Islamic clerics as satyrs; outtakes from early american photographs; imeras of nature (birds, flowers, trees) and of violence (daggers, bulallows, guns), interspersed through calligraphy and also scribbles.

Calligraphy is the sovereign, definitively Islamic art create, one via innate religious connotations as the tool via which the Koran is transcribed in Arabic. It is also the one Islamic art that shares nopoint with Western art, though particular Western-based artists, including some at the Modern, make it their very own.


Shirazeh Houshiary, born in Iran, based in London, paints single words -- she doesn't tell us what words -- over and over until they disdeal with right into an unreadable glow. Is her art calligraphy or Western-style abstraction? Both. Rachid Koraichi, raised in a Sufi family members in Algeria and now living in Paris, invents "calligraphic" texts with Arabic personalities, Chinese-style ideograms and talismanic signs, and embroiders them in gold on silk banners to create banners for a brand-new, global language.

Shirin Neshat, born in Iran, transforms the composed word -- as distinct from calligraphy, via its very specific abilities -- into a quasi-revolutionary instrument in a collection of 1996 studio photographs of young woguys who are dressed in typical black veils however bring guns and also have actually passages from erotic poetry and also paeans to religious martyrdom composed in Persian on their deals with and hands. The artist appears to be symbolically placing political power in the hands of the kinds of veiled womales who are automatically assumed by many type of Westerners to be oppressed victims of Islamic spiritual law, but that don't necessarily view themselves that means at all.

A pair of photographs by Jananne Al-Ani, who was born in Kirkuk, Iraq, of an Iraqi father and Irish mom, does the same point in another way. The pictures are of the artist, her mommy, her 2 sisters sitting side by side in steady levels of veiling. The veiling decreases from full to none if you review the photos in the left-to-best direction of created English, and increases from none to finish if you review in the right-to-left direction of composed Arabic.

It is possible to read the work-related as critical of orthodox Islamic practice. But Ms. Al-Ani's historic referral is to European colonial photographs of "exotic" Muslim woguys, which she turns into a visual essay on the artificiality of Western and Islamic identities.

The artificiality of a fixed identity is the exhibition's instrumental argument. And in the conmessage of the present, violent, real-civilization standoff between two artificial constructions well-known as the West and the Islamic human being, it definitely makes feeling. Yet other exhibitions in the previous year have efficiently approached the topic of Islam in art even more organically.They struck a much better balance between the personalized strategy of the work at the Modern and also the imeras of communal "Muslim fury" spilling from the media.

"Nazar: Photographs from the Arab World" at the Aperture Foundation in Chelsea last year was a truncated variation of a larger Dutch survey that merged images of the Islamic world -- right here called the Arab civilization -- by photographers from that area and also from external it. Only the "native" photographers were in the New York edition, and also then only some of them, however the array of styles and themes was tremendous.


Collectively, they developed a picture of a multifaceted, multisocial Islamic civilization that was vigorously facility without being arcane. It is secular and religious (Christian and Jewish as well as Islamic); politically fraught, however likewise everyday-plain. People get up, go to work, have actually lunch, come home, turn on the evening news and view insanity happening out there.

Sometimes, these days, that insanity is happening best dvery own the block. And if the Aperture present felt unrealistically pacific to viewers whose reality is shaped by CNN, "Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India" at the Asia Society and the Queens Museum of Art last spring sucount did not. Much of the art in that display addressed the disastrous post-Ayodhya Hindu and also Muslim violence of the last decade.

But fairly than laying the cause of violence at the door of ethnicity, it pointed to upper-level political pressures, consisting of those in the media, which developed a Hinduism and an Islam that can be collection at war.

Further widening the "Islam world" image were a handful of New York gallery mirrors. Apex Art in TriBeCa opened one home window via a display of 5 young artists, laconically titled "Too Much Pollution to Demonstrate: Soft Guerrillas in Tehran's Contemporary Art Scene." Kashya Hildebrand also in Chelsea opened up another through a survey of well-known culture in Iran that made it completely unrecognizable as the land of burqas and also mullahs of Western lore.

In a various style, Pomegranate Gallery, in SoHo, recently verified 5 Baghdad-based artists with work produced throughout, or best after, the USA attacked the city in 2003. Qasim Sabti was represented by collages he made from books from the library of the Academy of Fine Arts that he discovered scattered in the street.

After rubbing out the titles on the covers, he arranged the ruined quantities challenge down in patchoccupational trends. From a distance the results look like exercises in modernist geometric abstraction. Up cshed, under frayed edges and via tears in bindings, you watch printed words and also phrases in various languages: Arabic, Germale, French, English. They are proof of the cosmopolitan Islamic world that political powers, intent on producing a myth of unbridgeable divides, want to bury.


It is a vision that is both objective and embracing, materialist and also devotional, made by an artist that cannot be identified directly as Islamic yet likewise cannot simply be referred to as modern. The two identities are linked. The collage is made of issue that belongs to the West and Islam equally: publications, words, knowledge, poetry. It is yet one more in a world of images ranged prefer missiles. But this is a photo of vulnercapacity, of labels erased.

So, is tright here an "Islamic" to be discovered in the image that all these exhibitions together create? If tright here is, it is capacious, multifold, fantastically comprehensive and also, of course, still unfinished; favor Western art, it's a job in progression. The political fictions that have actually commandeered facility stage represent just a component of the picture, though it is easy -- and also dangerous -- to take them, or their Western counterparts, for the totality. If art does nothing else, it difficulties us not to look at the world also narrowly. By its incredibly breadth it reassures us that no photo is the image. That society is, constantly, around readjust. That occasionally collision courses can revolve right into open highmeans.

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WITHOUT BOUNDARY: SEVENTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING MUSEUM OF MODERN ART Thturbulent May 22; 11 West 53rd Street, Midtown, (212) 708-9400.