The Many Faces of the Quran
Three Penn art-history scholars were given a challenge last November: Put together an exhibition on the Quran in three months. Despite the lack of lead time, they managed to assemble a rich trove of texts from local sources. The exhibition at Van Pelt Librarys Rosenwald Gallery, The Quran: Revelation, Illumination, and Tradition, also brought to light numerous objects that had been languishing in storage for years.
It was really exciting to find out there was all of this material right around us, said Stephennie Mulder, a graduate student who curated the event along with Yasmine Al-Saleh G02 and Rebecca Steffens, also a graduate student.
In addition to a Quran that belonged to a Turkish soldier during the Russian-Turkish War of 1887, a match-box sized Quran from India, and an 18th-century Quran from Iran (with a frontispiece so ornate it took the illuminator six months to decorate one page), they came up with something thoroughly modern: a digital Quran that they acquired from Arabic.com.
While the Quran as a sacred book is treated with a tremendous amount of respect, says Mulderciting, for example, the rule of keeping it off the groundto take the Quran and put it into digital form, to put on headphones so you can listen to the recitation at the same time as youre reading the Arabic or English translation does, I think, profoundly change the experience of this book. I wouldnt want to say exactly how, not being a practicing Muslim, but I think thats the sort of question we wanted to bring up.
Yet throughout history, the exhibition points out, the Qurans words have been put on other surfacesfrom tiles to textiles to protective amulets. One example on display, a silk fragment that may have been part of a cenotaph cover, was found tucked in a drawer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The exhibitions purpose was not to look upon the books as objets dart, Mulder explained. We all felt we wanted to bring the Quran back down to earth for people and bring back the point that the Quran is something that informs everyday life for Muslims on multiple levels. We wanted to show both the way the book is created and also the way the Quran comes out from between the codex, the covers of the book, itself.
curators worked under the direction of their advisor, Dr. Renata Holod,
Its really impressive, von Schlegell said of the exhibition. They found all this rich Arabic material, quite old and precious, that before the show nobody had ever seen.