Djenne Mosque – Mali ©James-Morris

L’Institut du monde Arabe is currently exhibiting The Islamic Treasures of Africa, a show gathering both contemporary and ancient creations from African creators, influenced by islam.

The idea behind the eclectic election of artworks was to underline and connect the past and the present to create a coherent African islamic history, written by its inhabitants rather than the colons. As a hub reuniting several cults and ideologies, Africa witnessed the rise of sufism, a branch of islam where love and poetry are center stage. Reinterpreted by artist Maimouna Guerresi’s work, her photography, with its vibrant colours and contrast, stresses on the spiritual tradition of islam.

Minarets, mosques, madrasas and other architectonic structures testify of islam’s importance in the continent. While in the surface we could be tempted to think of orthodox ritualistic practices, the exhibition proves otherwise for much of the animistic beliefs melted with islam creating thus a religion on its own, detached from the sufi’s radical roots. In Ivory Coast, some masks from ancient rituals were utilised, the syncretism gave birth to a particular islam incorporating local beliefs. Magic is the additive giving another meaning to islam.

Contemporary artists, rendering homage to artisanal practices employ old techniques refreshing them. Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté for instance presents a work denouncing the political situation in his homeland, where an extremist group has submerged the country in a civil war. Finally, the arabic calligraphy with its inherent beauty demystifies the assumption stating that African cultures have a rather oral tradition. Some manuscripts are showcased in the exhibition rooms unveiling centuries of African islamic history. Contemporary artist Babacar Diouf recreates in his work the arabic calligraphy while he creates a new language. Taking a parcel of tradition and adding his own codes, he alters arabic converting it into an aesthetic.

The scenography is incredibly well adjusted urging the spectator to look for them even in the ceiling. The light as well enables us to neatly see even the slightest details of every piece presented at the exhibition: it is clear to us, the exhibition endeavour is to give a positive image of islam and prove that it was an ignitor in Africa.