Landmark exhibit of Orientalist art to open at Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

Osman Hamdi Bey's 'Young Woman Reading' (oil on canvas, 1880), which is part of the 'Orientalist Paintings: Mirror Or Mirage?' exhibition at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: IAMM

More than 100 paintings of Orientalist art are set to go on display at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) in Kuala Lumpur this week, the largest-ever exhibition – outside Europe and the United States – of paintings and artefacts that capture the essence of the Orient in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Highlights of IAMM's Orientalist Paintings: Mirror Or Mirage? exhibition, which runs from June 3 to Oct 15, include renowned works by some of the most celebrated painters of the era, including Jean-Leon Gerome, Eugene Delacroix, John Frederick Lewis and the remarkable but rarely seen Ottoman polymath Osman Hamdi Bey.

Most of these paintings from IAMM's collection were also shown at the British Museum's high-profile exhibition Inspired By The East: How The Islamic World Influenced Western Art in 2019.

A world of paintings

The Orientalist painting collection – more than 300 works – of the IAMM is among the world’s largest, and the Orientalist Paintings: Mirror Or Mirage? exhibition offers visitors a glimpse of this vast treasure trove.

“The exhibition Orientalist Paintings: Mirror Or Mirage? is the latest chapter in a long story. The relationships between Europe, America and what used to be called the ‘Orient’ were explored by the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia 15 years ago. In a pioneering exhibition we examined these influences, focusing on the decorative arts of East and West. There was one vital ingredient missing then: paintings,” said Syed Mohamed Albukhary, IAMM director in a media statement.

The exhibition – curated by London-based Lucien de Guise and KL-based Rekha Verma – takes a thematic look at that vast region in a time of transition.

The display at IAMM is divided into eight sections that follow the artists’ different creative callings.

"We follow a path that starts in the Maghreb and Al-Andalus. This was the main gateway that led European artists and other visitors into the Islamic world. The cultures they found have straddled Europe, Africa and Asia for centuries," outlines the exhibition notes.

Orientalist Paintings: Mirror Or Mirage? is also one of the largest exhibitions ever undertaken at the IAMM, and the works will be displayed over two main galleries.

More info here.

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