Respect difference, says Koehler, at Islamic art premiere in Berlin

Berlin – German President Horst Koehler called Tuesday for people to respect one another’s differences, at the Berlin opening of the Aga Khan exhibition, which includes some of the world’s most important Islamic art. “To admire the art of another, it is first necessary to respect what the other person thinks and feels,” Koehler said, expressing his hope that the exhibition would encourage a cultural dialogue, “which respects otherness.” The exhibition comprises around 200 items from the Aga Khan’s world famous art collection, including paintings, drawings, manuscripts, ceramics and wood carvings, spanning more than 1,000 years of Islamic cultural history.”The collection shows how diverse and wonderful Islamic art is,” museum director Gereon Sievernich told the German Press Agency dpa. “With this exhibition we want to influence the dialogue with the Islamic world in a different, positive way.” 

Karim Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of 20 million Ismaili Shiite Muslims, was expected to be among the guests on Tuesday evening.  The Aga Khan called for a better understanding between East and West ahead of Tuesday’s opening, adding that ignorance on both sides led to the “battle of civilizations.”  “Germany, and Berlin in particular, is a living example of a cultural and ethnic pluralism which has developed from the last decades of its history,” the Aga Khan added. 

The exhibition includes items from Islamic societies around the world, ranging from China to the Iberian peninsula.  One of the showpieces are pages from “The Great Book,” a national epic of the Persian people, written 1,000 years ago by the Persian poet Ferdowsi.  The Berlin exhibition will include five pages of the book, decorated with intricate illustrations, which was torn apart by an American collector in the 1960s, and sold in separate parts. 

“These miniatures are considered to be the Van Goghs of Islamic art,” said curator Benoit Junod, adding that it would be a long time until items would be exhibited again on German soil.  The Aga Khan, who lives in France and is considered a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammed, plans to display his art collection in a purpose-build museum in Toronto from the year 2013. 

Several items in the Berlin exhibition illustrate the particular importance of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.  The entire holy book is written in tiny ink on a large, green cotton cloth from India, while another exhibit is the famous north African “Blue Kuran,” dating to 9th or 10th Century.  One verse of the Koran is even inscribed in calligraphy on a chestnut leaf from Turkey.  Numerous other exhibits display the common elements uniting Islam with Christianity and Judaism.  These include an antique water bowl which stems from the shared tradition of washing before prayer. A silver Spanish measuring tool combines Arabic, Jewish and Christian symbols. 

“If you are only praying to one God, it must be the same one,” Junod said. The exhibition runs until June 6, at the Martin Gropius Bau in central Berlin.

Source: Earth Times

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