Aug 2018 Guided tour of the Islamic Arts Museum

Guided tour of the Islamic Arts Museum,  15th August, 201


Oftentimes we pack our travels with fervent museum visits but take the gems in our own backyard for granted. I am one of those guilty ones and hence grabbed the MCG invitation with open arms to join ten MCG members for a guided tour of the Islamic Arts Museum on August 15th, 2018. We were taken around by their curator, En Shukri, who is an architect by training. All through the tour, the ladies peppered him with questions resulting in a lively and engaging visit. 


The Islamic Arts Museum celebrated its 20th anniversary last December and has twelve main galleries plus an extra two for special exhibitions. Our visit was focused on the galleries of Level one,  with an animated start from the Architecture Gallery, being En Shukri’s area of expertise. He walked us through the architectural models of mosques around the world and ages, highlighting the local influences on the buildings of different geographical areas and periods. 

As we transitioned to the Quran and Manuscripts Gallery, we were shown the Damascus Room, one of the museum highlights. This lavishly decorated room was taken whole from an affluent Syrian house with its beautifully painted, carved wall panels, ceiling, vaulted arches, intact and now preserved from the ravages of the tragic Syrian war. 

The Quran and Manuscripts Gallery features illuminated manuscripts, books, miniatures, ancient Quran leaves beautifully inscribed on vellum leaves. The different Islamic calligraphy styles were highlighted - ancient manuscripts in rigid, angular geometric forms moving onto the more familiar arabesque, cursive scripts. The Gallery showcased the painstaking artistic collaborative efforts of the vellum/paper makers, calligraphers, illuminators and book binders. Again, local influences and materials are visible in scripts of different geographies - turquoise and indigo of the ancient Persian scripts, black yellow and red of the Nusantara. Other items of interest in this gallery include the KiswaKaaba, medieval Islamic maps and the oldest known astrolabe. 

We then moved onto the India Gallery which showcases the Mughals’ love of beauty and a lifestyle of opulence never seen before in India. There is a wall of Royal Mughal Miniatures and cabinets of exquisite objects and jewellery fashioned from ivory, precious metals and gems, enamels, similar to those painted into the miniatures. The China Gallery was mainly porcelain made for the Islamic market. Ming blue and whites, Canton porcelain, cloisonné, Aceh Style Swatow, with Islamic calligraphy and verses, sometimes with inscriptions that make no sense. Next was the Malay World Gallery with beautiful textiles (batiks, songkets, limar kain, tenun), krises and money trees. Did you know that the more waves there are in a kris, the higher the status of the owner? We were also shown a lethal tiny dagger, a tumbuklada, that can be used as a hair pin. 

Our tour ended as we were brought up to the next level that houses the remaining galleries - Jewellery, Textiles, Woodwork, Metalwork, Porcelain, Arms and Armour and Objects of the Realm. All the items are owned by the museum sourced from auctions and private collections around the world - what a shopping spree to set it up! This private museum definitely deserves a longer visit. “Amazing stunning “as one of the ladies put it. Special thanks to Michelle (who organized this and came to see us off in the morning despite having other commitments and was unable to join in the tour), Isabelle her deputy, En Shukri and the Islamic Museum staff. 

Lastly, do not miss the museum shop - no museum visit is complete without a stop at the museum shop. Islamic Museum is full of lovely items and books that will make wonderful gifts. 


Ke Ti Leong