“With Quite Different Eyes”


Norma Jean Calderwood, whose collection is showcased in the current exhibition In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, often said that in order to fully appreciate Islamic art one must approach it “with quite different eyes.” In a recent gallery talk, visitors were prompted to do just that—to look closely and differently at objects to uncover themes and details that a casual viewer might overlook.

First, curator Mary McWilliams brought attention to the decoration on ceramics on view. She highlighted the use of calligraphy and iconography on objects such as Small bowl with peacock to demonstrate how associations inspired by bird imagery could change over time.

Curatorial fellow Ayşin Yoltar-Yildirim discussed the use of portraits in various illustrated manuscripts, including Qaydafa Recognizes Iskandar from His Portrait, where a portrait of Iskandar (Alexander the Great) helps Queen Qaydafa, the ruler of Andalusia, uncover his disguise as his own messenger.

Lastly, assistant curator Mika Natif used a variety of objects—from a pen box featuring nightingales and blossoming branches to a broken ceramic tile illustrating a couple embracing—to explore the theme of love that spans the collection.

With such a rich collection of works on view, this talk was only the beginning of many discoveries to be made. We think Norma Jean would be pleased.

See more images from the gallery talk on Flickr.

Share your favorite discoveries from the Calderwood Collection in the comment section below.

Photos: Antoinette Hocbo