Thursday, January 20, 2011

673)In Memoriam: Oleg Grabar (1929-2011); Quotes from Blogpost Four Hundred.

"Quran Symposium.....a reflection of how Islam's revelation, with its challenge to man's innate gift of quest and reason, became a powerful impetus for a new flowering of human civilisation.This programme is also an opportunity for achieving insights into how the discourse of the Qur'an-e-Sharif, rich in parable and allegory, metaphor and symbol, has been an inexhaustible well-spring of inspiration, lending itself to a wide spectrum of interpretations.In this context, would it not also be relevant to consider how, above all, it has been the Qur'anic notion of the universe as an expression of Allah's will and creation that has inspired, in diverse Muslim communities, generations of artists, scientists and philosophers? Scientific pursuits, philosophic inquiry and artistic endeavour are all seen as the response of the faithful to the recurring call of the Qur'an to ponder the creation as a way to understand Allah's benevolent majesty. As Sura al-Baqara proclaims: 'Wherever you turn, there is the face of Allah'.The famous verse of 'light' in the Qur'an, the Ayat al-Nur, whose first line is rendered here in the mural behind me, inspires among Muslims a reflection on the sacred, the transcendent. It hints at a cosmos full of signs and symbols that evoke the perfection of Allah's creation and mercy"(Aga Khan IV,Speech, Institute of Ismaili Studies, October 2003, London, U.K., where Professor Oleg Grabar presented the opening lecture)

"I should emphasise, as well, that the Museum building itself will be an important work of art — designed by the great Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki. Many of you know his superb building in Ottawa that has been the home for the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat since 2008. That Delegation building was inspired by the evanescent mysteries of rock crystal. The new Toronto Museum will take as its theme the concept of light — suffusing the building from a central courtyard, through patterned glass screens. From the outside, it will glow by day and by night, lit by the sun and the moon. This use of light speaks to us of the Divine Light of the Creator, reflected in the glow of individual human inspiration and vibrant, transparent community. As the poet Rumi has written: “The light that lights the eye is also the light of the heart… but the light that lights the heart is the Light of God.”"(Aga Khan IV, Foundation Ceremony of the Ismaili Center, Aga Khan Museum and their Park, Toronto, Canada, May 28 2010)

"It now includes three elements: a new Ismaili Centre — the sixth such representational building in the world; a new Aga Khan Museum; and a beautiful, welcoming Park, which will link these two new buildings. Together, these three projects will symbolise the harmonious integration of the spiritual, the artistic and the natural worlds — in keeping with the holistic ideal which is an intimate part of Islamic tradition. At the same time they will also express a profound commitment to inter-cultural engagement, and international cooperation."(Aga Khan IV, Foundation Ceremony of the Ismaili Center, Aga Khan Museum and their Park, Toronto, Canada, May 28 2010)

As our plans began to take shape, we came to realise that the Museum’s focus on the arts of Islam will make it a unique institution in North America, contributing to a better understanding of Islamic civilisations — and especially of the plurality within Islam and of Islam’s relationship to other traditions. It will be a place for sharing a story, through art and artefacts, of highly diverse achievements — going back over 1 400 years. It will honour the central place within Islam of the search for knowledge and beauty. And it will illuminate the inspiration which Muslim artists have drawn from faith, and from a diverse array of epics, from human stories of separation and loss, of love and joy — themes which we know reverberate eloquently across the diverse cultures of humanity."(Aga Khan IV, Foundation Ceremony of the Ismaili Center, Aga Khan Museum and their Park, Toronto, Canada, May 28 2010)

"Like the Museum, the Ismaili Centre will also be part of a supportive global network — a group of Centres that now includes Vancouver, London, Lisbon, Dubai and Dushanbe — and with new Centres planned in Houston, Los Angeles and Paris. The focal point of the Toronto Centre will be a circular prayer hall, dedicated to spiritual reflection, while other spaces will provide for deeper engagement with the broader community among whom Ismailis live. The Centre has been designed by Charles Correa, the award-winning architect based in Mumbai. The building will feature a crystalline frosted glass dome — standing like a great beacon on top of a building that is itself at the highest point of the site — and illuminating the Prayer Hall and its Qibla wall. What about the Park? The Park will comprise some 75 000 square metres — and what an impressive site it will be! It was designed by Vladimir Djurovic, a Lebanon- based artist, who was selected for this role following an international competition. His design draws upon the concept of the traditional Islamic garden, and especially the gardens of the Alhambra, which flourished during the great era of Spanish history when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in creative harmony."(Aga Khan IV, Foundation Ceremony of the Ismaili Center, Aga Khan Museum and their Park, Toronto, Canada, May 28 2010)

“Even more exciting are the proposed contents of the Museum, a rich repository of art and artefacts tracing the evolution of Muslim culture through the ages. It will be a grand destination for Muslim visitors from across Canada and around the world, and it will introduce Canadians from other faith and cultural backgrounds to the compelling history of Islam, one of the world’s great religions and the inspiration for countless major advancements in art, science, music and philosophy."(Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Foundation Ceremony of the Aga Khan Museum, Ismaili Center and their Park, Toronto, Canada, May 28 2010)

"Part of what makes this site so captivating, is that it links the natural environment with the built environment, the Divine Creation, on the one hand with human creativity on the other. Here endless seascapes humble us in the face of the eternal and unknowable – while a splendid cityscape expresses the confident accomplishments of particular historic moments......"(Aga Khan IV, Forodhani Park, Stone Town, Zanzibar, July 30th 2009)

In Memoriam: Oleg Grabar (1929-2011)
January 2011

Prof Oleg Grabar, one of the most prominent Islamic art historians and scholars of our time passed away in Princeton on 8th January 2011 at the age of 81. His spirit of critical inquiry and tireless efforts in challenging pre-conceived perspectives in Western thought about art and architecture in the Muslim world will be much missed by many at the Institute and beyond.
Over the course of six decades, his innovative and prolific output and teaching have touched the lives of many, besides being the motive force behind a surge in the number of historians specialising in Islamic art, particularly in the United States. Prof. Azim Nanji, former director of the IIS and currently Senior Associate Director of the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies at Stanford University, reiterates this: "In addition to his writings, many of which are classics in the field, his most lasting legacy was the training and development of a generation of scholars. Each of them, as archaeologists, architects, museum directors and creators of new academic programmes in Muslim Arts, built on his teaching and scholarship to make the field what it is today.”

Throughout his lifetime, he was part of myriad archaeological expeditions and research trips, across the Islamic world in Africa, the Middle East and Muslim Asia, continually documenting and devising new methods to illuminate aspects of art, history and culture of Muslim peoples. According to Prof. Nanji it is because of Grabar that, “the Arts and Architecture of the Muslim World are now part of the larger study of human civilisations and a lens that allows us to see Muslim cultures beyond a narrowly defined, theological and textually-centred field of study.”
Prof. Grabar was the first Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture when that chair was established at Harvard in 1980. In 1990, he retired from Harvard to assume a position of Professor Emeritus in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. In November 2010, he received the Chairman’s Award by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, “in acknowledgement of the valuable contributions he has made to the study of the Islamic world’s architectural evolution, from the early Islamic period up to the present. Through his teaching, writings, and lectures, Oleg Grabar has greatly widened and enriched our understanding of the Islamic world’s architectural production, emphasising its geographic and chronological diversity, as well as positioning it within the wider political, social, cultural and economic contexts”.

His involvement dates back to 1990, when he participated in the Islam in the Contemporary World Conference held at St Catherine’s College, Oxford and delivered a lecture on the arts in Islam. In 2003, Oleg Grabar delivered the opening lecture at the international colloquium, Word of God, Art of Man: The Qur’an and its Creative Expressions that was held to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the IIS. In his memorable lecture, he raised several theoretical questions using examples from Muslim history to examine how revelations, more generally, and the Qur'an specifically, have interfaced with the arts in providing a visual expression to the Sacred Word. More recently, in March 2009, Prof. Grabar delivered a lecture at the IIS/British Museum co-sponsored conference, People of the Prophet’s House: Art, Architecture and Shi‘ism in the Islamic World. In his paper entitled: “Can we identify Shi‘i Features in Art and Architecture?” he put forth that there is a distinction between labelling an object as Shi‘i purely because of certain inscriptions and attributing Shi‘i provenance to forms and subjects, stating that we must consider the receiver rather than the creator of an object in order to understand it.

Prof. Grabar is survived by his wife of 59 years, Dr. Terry Grabar, a retired professor of English, his son Nicolas, daughter-in-law Jennifer Sage and grandchildren Henry, Margaret and Olivia. The IIS extends its condolences to his family and pays tribute to this outstanding scholar who dedicated much of his life to the study of art and architecture of Muslim societies. He will be remembered for many years to come by his many colleagues, friends and students at the Institute of Ismaili Studies.

Image courtesy of Cliff Moore

Related Pages on the IIS Website
Academic Article: Fatimid Art, Precursor or Culmination

Related from my Blog:
A Collection of Posts on Symmetry in Nature, as a Product of the Human Mind, Geometry and Harmonious Mathematical Reasoning; Quotes of Aga Khan IV

Easy Nash

In Shia Islam, intellect is a key component of faith. Intellect allows us to understand the creation of God: Aga Khan IV(2008)
The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)
The Holy Qu'ran's encouragement to study nature and the physical world around us gave the original impetus to scientific enquiry among Muslims: Aga Khan IV(1985)
The first and only thing created by God was the Intellect(Aql): Prophet Muhammad(circa 632CE)