International Interpretative Approaches to the Exhibition of Islamic Art

Dr. Melissa Forstrom, Assistant Professor at Purchase College-State University of New York, presents her research on Islamic art exhibition in museums worldwide.

Many, if not all of the major Islamic Art collections worldwide have been reinstalled in the past twenty years. In fact, Islamic art collections may be the most consistently reinstalled art historical sub-field ever. Often exhibitions of Islamic Art are discussed (by exhibition creators and exhibition reviewers) using language that suggests alternative narratives exist, such as the exhibitions “tell another story” of Islam, “bridge cultural divides” and “combat” negative media narratives. 

Based on these assertions and through a survey of the interpretative approaches in five Islamic art reinstallations, this presentation asks: Do alternative stories exist in these Islamic art exhibitions? And if so, can we specify where? The reinstallations that will be discussed are: 

  • Islamic Art, Detroit Institute of the Arts, Detroit MI (2010)
  • New Galleries for the Art of Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA (2011)
  • Arts of Islam, Louvre, Paris (2012)
  • Islamic Art at the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia (2015)
  • The Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA (2017)

Forstrom explores the “alternative narrative” claims and exposes the complicated dialogical and sometimes reflective relationship between media representations of Islam and the exhibition of Islamic art.


This lecture is sponsored by the DIA’s Friends of Asian Arts and Cultures.