Emily Clarke

The art in the display case is both beautiful and functional; objects like the ceramic plate in the Mina art form of Iran contain 99 names of Allah, all radiating outwards from text in the center, in recognition, thanks, perhaps prayer. An object as mundane as a plate thus becomes ornate through calligraphy, mirroring in its spread the abundance God has created in all of its varied forms. Almost all the space on the plate is filled, an element common to the other works of art—every inch of a jar, a door, a garment is packed with winding script and weaving pattern in astounding richness. Flowers, which adorn the gold jar, the plate by Kharrazi, and another large plate, signify the growth and provision of all things under God, and thus serve a similar function to the ninety-nine names.

Another piece, the Mehrab Tapestry, decorated with Qur’anic verses, is a two-dimensional textile version of the altars found in mosques, with the bright colors and arches drawing the eye upwards toward God. In all of the pieces, the level of detail is so precise. A green box inlaid with metal and bone is especially intricate–the exacting and mesmerizing geometry slows its audience down, inspiring close attention and awe, which are appropriate considering that the box is used to store religious scripts.

Even when objects fall on the side of decorative rather than functional, Arabic calligraphy such as “In the name of Allah, the compassionate and the merciful,” gives the artwork more than aesthetic value. The text makes the piece a good omen, a decoration which affirms belief in and love for God. Similarly, the rings inscribed with the verses of the Qur’an are testaments to the ways that art can affirm identity—by wearing these rings, one wears the physical embodiment of the word of Allah as part of the self.

The text across the top of a replica of the protective garment of the Ottoman Sultan which reads “Oh, the best company” is about God, but can also be applied to these objects themselves: art can and does keep us company. Beautiful on its own, art is also beautiful in the way that a friend is, someone who can tell us who we are.