Arab Culture and Civilization: A collaborative web project created by NITLE and sponsored by MEPC
Musharaka [ Cooperation ]  Calligraphy by Khaled Al-Saai

Art and Architecture

Main Menu   Introduction   Readings   Audio/Video   Links   Bibliography  

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-Literature and Philosophy
-Popular Culture and the Performing Arts
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-Art and Architecture
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-Geography, Demographics, and Resources
-New Media
A website for K-12 educators featuring innovative resource on the culture, geography, history and religions of the Middle East, including essays, classroom activities, downloadable multimedia content and interactive Google Earth tours.


Art History is often a discourse of style, form, technique, and color. Although necessary to the discussion of art, the analysis must go further. The readings selected here will not only introduce the reader to the aforementioned approaches, but also examine the socioeconomic, political, and cultural realms providing a framework for understanding the production and consumption of art forms in a historically specific context.

Exploring the art and architecture of the Arab World, this unit covers a vast expanse of time and geography, yet is more focused than traditional art history texts which tend to examine the Muslim world in its entirety and use the emergence of Islam in the seventh century AD as the point of departure. The primary focus of this module is the diverse region that makes up the Arab World, reaching from the Atlantic to the Gulf, and will examine the significant contributions of the region’s pre-Islamic cultures as well as those from contemporary non-Muslim groups. This does not exclude, however, the impact of contact and exchange with groups outside of the Arab World and the reader will be introduced to other traditions including Iranian, Turkic, and European.

Beginning with Robert Irwin’s chapter, "The Historical Background," and Robert Hillenbrand’s "The Birth of Islamic Art: The Umayyads," through the chapters entitled "Central Islamic Lands" and "Architecture and the Arts in Egypt and North Africa," a history of the region’s material culture emerges, while other readings provide glimpses into specific themes within this study. In "The Proportions of the Line," Abdelkebir Khatibi and Mohammed Sijelmassi elaborate on the principal points of calligraphy, a highly important art form throughout the Muslim world. Ernst Grube’s article on the meaning of Islamic architecture provides not only an introduction to the forms and functions of buildings, but also introduces the question of an intrinsic "Islamicness" in art and architecture. Both Jad Thabet and Udo Kultermann examine regional architectural projects in the modern-day Arab World.

Within the audio/video section of this unit, one will find several interesting and informative visual aids covering both the early Islamic period and contemporary art in the Arab World. A brief tour of the Great Mosque of Damascus, when viewed in conjunction with Hillenbrand’s chapter, provides a more comprehensive understanding of the site. The Forces of Change video examines the work of several prominent contemporary women artists. Through a series of interviews, each artist’s work — and the personal struggles, motivations, and inspirations that inform it — is examined.

In addition to the readings and the audio/visuals, the galleries of this unit is an essential tool. Links within the readings will provide the reader with representative examples of the art and architecture to illuminate the texts.

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