Qur’an Manuscript in Maghribi Script. Morocco, end of Rabi’ al-Awwal, AH 718 / 1318 CE.MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, HOUSTON

The Museum of Fine Arts has announced plans to double the size of its space for Islamic art, with new galleries opening in early 2023. The expansion of the exhibition space is the result of a 15-year-long initiative carried out by the museum to increase its Islamic art holdings.

The new exhibition spaces, spanning 6,000 square feet, will be located in the museum’s Caroline Wiess Law Building. An outdoor space inspired by Islamic gardens will also be opened as part of the plan. The galleries will bring to display works spanning various mediums, from paintings, manuscripts, and ceramics to textiles and metalwork. The objects derive from regions throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; their origins span 1,000 years.

Among the highlights to go on view in the new space is a Moroccan Qur’an manuscript in Maghribi script, a 17th-century Iranian silk carpet, and a mid-17th-century huqqa base from India.

In a statement, the MFA Houston’s director, Gary Tinterow, said the final plan for the expansion was mobilized by a newly-formed partnership with collector Hossein Afshar, who he described as “the creator of perhaps the most extensive collection of Iranian art in private hands.” Objects on loan from both the Afshar collection, as well as those from the holdings of board member Sheikha Hussa Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah will also fill the exhibition space.

“We are proud to be one of the largest permanent displays in the United States for art of the Islamic worlds,” the museum’s curator of Art of the Islamic Worlds, Aimée Froom, said in a statement. “The galleries are as diverse as Houston itself.”

The museum’s efforts to raise funds and forge loan partnerships to bolster its showings of Islamic art have been in the works for more than a decade. In 2012, the MFA established a long-term partnership with the Kuwait-based owners of the al-Sabah collection in order to bring some of the objects on loan to Houston. Between 2007 and 2017, $3.7 million in funding gifted from billionaire ambassador Hushang Ansary to establish an endowment for the department moved the plans further.

The MFA Houston is not the only museum making moves to expand its focus on non-Western categories. In January, the Brooklyn Museum added a new gallery devoted to the Buddhist art as part of a focus on its Arts of Asia and the Islamic World collections.


By Angelica Villa