About Face: People, Animals, and Mythical Beings in Islamic Art

May 5–December 10, 2017

About Face: People, Animals, and Mythical Beings in Islamic Art on-line website

Islamic art is known for exquisite calligraphy, geometric patterns, and floral designs. However, many of the artworks in this installation also feature images of people and animals.

Because some interpretations of Islam’s sacred text—the Qur’an—oppose the drawing and painting of living beings, figuration may not be expected in Islamic art. These interpretations are rooted in the belief in the singularity of God as the ultimate creator of life.

It is the non-devotional or secular nature of most of these objects that allows for more freedom to portray figures. However, faces and bodies are often represented in a stylized or non-realistic way.

We hope this exhibition provides a glimpse into the varied content of Islamic art.

—Ryleigh Swanson, Smith College ’19 and Alyina Zaidi, Mount Holyoke College ’17


This exhibition was researched, written, and designed by students in the art history course, Luster and Gilt: Persian Painting at the Smith College Museum of Art. The class was held at the museum during Spring 2017.

Alex Dika Seggerman, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Art Department, Smith College, developed the course for students to be the first scholar-curators to research the recent gifts of Elinor Lander Horwitz, class of 1950.

On-line website designed by Mollie Wohlforth, Mount Holyoke College, '19.


Image: Iran, Kashan. c. 1200–1220 ce. Six pointed stellar tile with seated female figure. Fritware, opaque white glaze, brown luster. Gift of Elinor Lander Horwitz, class of 1950.