Nature in Islamic Art

Malaysia is a hotspot of cultural diversity, with Malays, Indian, Chinese and indigenous/aboriginal people calling Malaysia home and following a variety of religions and lifestyles including Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, a Chinese mix of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, and Animism (simply put a belief that animals, plants, nature etc. can have souls and spirits, a belief common amongst many groups of indigenous people). This variety leads to a huge variety of beautiful art and cultural works many of which feature nature prominently. First up – nature in Islamic art.

Kuala Lumpur is home to the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAAM) which I visited a couple of weeks ago. The museum is beautiful outside as well as in, with gracefully decorated domes in blue, cream and white. Highlights for me included the calligraphy, especially the paintings that turned calligraphic font into pictures of flowers. There were also beautiful textiles, jewellery and ceramics on display.

Entrance pillar, Malaysian Museum of Islamic Art

One important factor in Islamic art is that there tends to be less figural imagery (although it is not totally absent as some people believe) due to the Islamic belief that creating human and animal form should be the work of God only or a worry that the art may be mistaken for idolatry. For this reason Islamic art features geometric, floral, arabesque and other repetitive patterns. These pattern were not just used in art for art’s sake but as decoration in a wide range of decorative arts; metalwork, textiles, glass, ceramics(1)… The basics of both the geometric and more naturally-influenced (‘vegetal’) patterns may have come from the absorption of earlier Byzantine, Greek and Roman culture(2) but they rose to prominence for possibly the first time during the early periods of Islamic art (IAMM information board).

This legacy can be seen all over Malaysia, from Mosques and museums to the new chancellory building on campus.

National Mosque, KL

Canselori, UM

1. An Introduction to Islamic Art
2. Islamic Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
See also:
Museum with no Frontiers

In other news:
* An art exhibition bringing attention to environmental issues including a coral reef made of sugar: Sense of Taste @ GV Art London.
* BBC programme on Britain’s reefs, available on iplayer: Britain’s Great Reef.


2 thoughts on “Nature in Islamic Art

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