MA students visit Sotheby’s and Christie’s

MA students visit Sotheby's and Christie's

Students were given the opportunity to view and handle valuable items of art during a recent material cultures excursion to Sotheby's and Christie's.

In October, MA students studying the material cultures course led by Professor Stefan Weber visited three auction exhibitions at Christie's and Sotheby's in London.

The students visited the exhibitions entitled 'Islamic Works of Art and Textiles' and 'Art of The Islamic And Indian Worlds' at Christie's, and attended a brief lecture with Alice Bailey, Head of Sales. At Sotheby's, the students benefitted from a private view of the exhibition and handling session prior to sale, led by Edward Gibbs, Head of Islamic and Indian Art Department.

The aim of these sessions was to provide students with an understanding of the relationship between the academic field 'Islamic Art' and the making of collections. Such visits provide an opportunity for students to pose important questions about the art market and its relationship to material cultures from Muslim contexts.

MA student Larisa Gvasalia noted that as well as giving students access to Islamic art, such excursions provide students with the ability to approach precious objects outside the context of the museum.

MA student Larisa Gvasaliya handles an important silver-inlaid cast brass incense burner (probably mosul) 1240-60.

"The visit to the Christie's and Sotheby's auction houses was really interesting. It was a chance to see art objects from the Muslim world in an environment other than a museum. It proved to be a really good insight into understanding art not only as part of a museum's display but also as objects of trade having not only cultural but also monetary value," she said.

Student Fayaz Noormohamad stated that the visits presented students with an opportunity to understand the art market, and what and who defines what 'art' is and what is considered valuable. In addition to this, the visit has coincided with a debate concerning the definition of 'Islamic art' and how arts created by Muslims have been classified throughout history.

"Visiting Christies and Sotheby's introduced us to the world of art collecting. It revealed that from the business end of it, art is not necessarily about what is beautiful, if that can ever be universally measured, nor that which was intended to be 'art' by the maker/consumer, but rather, those objects that have historical significance, which itself is constructed, while fashionable today, based on the tastes of the market."

"These visits were timely in that they began our debate… on what exactly 'Islamic art' is, or for that matter, what 'art' is. The course [Material Cultures] is centred on exploring how the Muslim arts, over history, have been collected, and thus classified, which can subsequently limit or make to broad the objects of material production in question," he commented.

Noormohamad added that, "the course also aims to better understand how these arts have been perceived in their own contexts, and how better they can serve both indigenous and foreign audiences in both widening and specifying the knowledges we construct of Muslim cultures as they have evolved over time."

Field-visits to museums and galleries form an integral part of the MA in Muslim Cultures. Alongside regular tutorials and guest lectures by eminent speakers, field-visits help to place the artistic heritage of Muslims within a broader societal and cultural context. The students were accompanied on the excursion by Assistant Professor Stefan Weber.

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