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About the Exhibit

This permanent online exhibit is an adaptation of the Indiana University Art Museum special exhibition, From Pen to Printing Press: Ten Centuries of Islamic Book Arts on display March 7-May 10, 2009.  All of the materials featured in the IU Art Museum exhibit and on this website are housed in Indiana University collections on the Bloomington campus and are accessible to the general public.

Installation view, exhibit entrance Installation view, main

The 2009 IU Art Museum exhibit and this web module are part of a larger project that aims to make the Islamic materials housed at IU better known to the general public. The project also includes a scholarly book to be published by IU Press in Fall 2009, and a symposium on Islamic book arts that was held in March 2009. The project originated with a hands-on graduate seminar, “From Pen to Paper: Islamic Codicology and Paleography,” developed and led by Professor Christiane Gruber at IU in Fall 2006. The graduate research papers written for this class were transformed into articles included in the forthcoming volume, The Islamic Manuscript Tradition: Ten Centuries of Book Arts in Indiana University Collections (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, Fall 2009). Each essay in this publication focuses on one Islamic object or collection of objects at IU.

As in the initial graduate seminar, the IU Art Museum exhibit highlighted the process of creating the written word with particular attention given to the materials, tools, and writing implements used by calligraphers and book binders. A section in the exhibit devoted to paintings demonstrated the rich tradition of book illustration that developed in Persianate lands, while a section dedicated to religious works and Qur'anic manuscripts unveiled the profound and elaborate tradition of illumination that often accompanied devotional and sacred texts. Early Ottoman printed books were displayed as well in order to explicate the initial inspiration they took both from the Islamic manuscript tradition and Western printing traditions. Finally, modern calligraphies from the late twentieth century also illustrated the continuing practice and revival of traditional Islamic book arts in the contemporary world. A similar thematic approach to the materials has been followed in this online exhibit.

The Islamic materials in IU collections cover a wide range of temporal and geographical spheres. The objects represent over ten centuries of the written word produced throughout the Islamic world, from North and Sub-Saharan Africa to the Indian subcontinent. It is our hope that this permanent online exhibit will complement other facets of our larger project on Islamic book arts at IU, while also fulfilling the objective of making these works on paper more accessible to public audiences and the scholarly community.


Support for the creation of this web module was provided by the Grants-in-Aid of Creative Activity program administered by the Indiana University Office of the Vice Provost for Research, as well as the Indiana University’s New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Program, which funded research on over fifty Islamic items drawn from the collections of the Indiana University Art Museum, the Lilly Library, and the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

Many people from several areas at IU made this project possible. Thanks go to the staff of the Office of Creative Services at Indiana University, with special appreciation to Kathleen Chmelewski, Rebecca Salerno, and Dan Hiester for their creativity and remarkable attention to detail when designing the website. The staff of the Art Museum, the Lilly Library, and the Mathers Museum are thanked for their unfailing encouragement and support of this project. I owe a special debt of gratitude to Judy Stubbs, the Pamela Buell Curator of Asian Art at the Art Museum, for granting me access to the collections and for fielding countless questions regarding the Islamic objects in the museum. I am equally indebted to Sue Presnell and the librarians at the Lilly Library, who granted me continuous access to its collection of Islamic manuscripts and rare books. I must also thank Ellen Sieber, Curator of Collections at the Mathers Museum, for introducing me to its Islamic calligraphic materials. I am grateful to the photographers at all three institutions for providing me with images of superior clarity and quality. Finally, I would like to thank Kitty Johnson and Brittany Payeur for their additional help with questions regarding objects from their specific fields of research, Sheida Riahi for helping me with Persian poetic texts, and Chris Bates for his technical support.

Last but not least, for offering me the opportunity to work with these materials and to be involved in the web module project, for providing generous feedback and constructive comments on drafts of numerous object entries, and for her overall support, I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to my academic advisor, Christiane J. Gruber.

Yasemin Gencer
Ph.D. Student, Islamic Art
Department of the History of Art
Indiana University, Bloomington