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Monday, August 26, 2013

Malaysian Islamic Arts Museum provides expansive insight

The Islamic Arts Museum in Malaysia is a must-visit for the culturally indulgent, as it is the largest Southeast Asian museum of Islamic arts. It boasts a spectacular collection of over 7,000 artifacts and relics celebrating the marvels that emerged from the Islamic world.

The museum has surpassed expectations in curating a collection that is representative of the entire Islamic world. Its gallery sections house works that represent their geographical origins from India, China and Malay, illustrating the multi-cultural diversity of Malaysia.

All formal institutional and architectural rigidities are shunned through its wide, open and airy floors, which rule the design mandate of the museum site spread over 30,000 square meters. It opens onto a white marble courtyard reminiscent of Mughal architecture – of which the Taj Mahal in India is a famous example.

The open space design scheme continued and maintained throughout the gallery lends a fresh, contemporary vibe to the museum and is a unique combination of modern design and traditional Iranian and Central architecture, with magnificent turquoise-colored domes dominating Kuala Lumpur’s city skyline.

The museum has galleries dedicated to precious items and articles according to themes, region and chronology: Arms and armor, ceramics, wood works, textiles, architecture, Qur’an and manuscripts, jewelry, India, China and Malay world, and coins and seal galleries which occupy two floors. An additional two floors are dedicated to hosting temporary exhibitions.

The India Gallery provides a unique and unprecedented look inside the private and social lives of Mughals. Their dynasty was established in 1526 and their reign influenced the social, religious, and political landscape of India, bringing Islamic architecture, art, and music into the fabric of the subcontinent.

Rare court portraitures of princes and princesses, bejeweled furniture and personal grooming articles, decorative ceramics, metal works, arms and armor provide a stunning look into the life of the Mughal royals and their domestic way of life.

The opulence of Indian jewelry replete with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls, and semi-precious stones; and other trinkets from Central Asia, provide a glimpse into fashion trends prevailing in the tribal and royal circles from the Islamic world.

Rare Qur’an copies and manuscripts dating back as far as the 14th century and books, scripts and treatises in medicine, mathematics, astronomy and philosophy that added to the academic development of the Islamic world from Kashmir, Persia, Syria, Turkey and Morocco can be found on display.

The Southeast Asian gallery reflects the grand expertise of the artists of the period from 16-18th century through their calligraphy heavy Qur’anic art that also drew influence from traditional Chinese writing art forms.

The largest scale model in the world of the Holy Mosque of Makkah can be found here, including the recreation of the interiors of mausoleums of Timur and Amir Albukhari and the understated mosques in China and Southeast Asia.

The arms and armor gallery display two major categories of weaponry: firearms and edged weapons. Blades, barrels, swords, daggers, axes, maces and spears show a very high artistic dimension to the art of war through their jeweled beauty and intricate design forms, and mechanical effectiveness through ingenious workmanship used in battle during the reign of the Muslim empire stretching from Asia to Europe.

One can find a very exciting extension to the museum apart from the gallery and exhibits on display. This includes a museum restaurant that predominantly serves Middle Eastern cuisine. The restaurant décor runs in parallel to the understated architecture of the museum. The vibe is resplendent with Arabian and Persian elements and decorative motifs and opens onto a soothing Fountain Garden Courtyard outside.

Located on the ground floor is the Museum Shop that offers a unique selection of books, trinkets, postcards, souvenirs, apparel, paintings and other decorative items that are worth a buy. The store is a treasure-trove of exotic finds that is underlined with the theme of promoting Islamic art, from Southeast Asian woodwork for home decoration, to intricate middle-eastern jewelry, and books and writing diaries for the more lit-indulgent. A variety of products exclusively developed by the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia are also available.

The museum also boasts a view terrace, a fountain garden, special galleries, an auditorium, a children’s library, and a scholar’s library, which can be accessed through appointment.
Until Nov. 20 the exhibition Al Haj: The Malaysian Experience, gives an overview of the key rites and necessary knowledge of the holy pilgrimage in an educational manner to equip aspiring pilgrims to undertake this once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is also to encourage the younger generation to undertake the pilgrimage.

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