The Islamic School of Art is one of the first cultural institutions which emerged from Qom Seminary. It was established to be active in the realm of religion and the arts to nurture students, with religious backgrounds and education. It aims to explain the foundations of religious thinking in the arts and also get involved in theoretical and practical education of arts.
We talk to ISOA's deputy director Mr. Soltanpoor about the history of the school, contemporary Islamic art and the future of Islamic art, heritage and culture.
How did the cultural institution of Islamic School of Art develop and what is the intention behind it?
Islamic School Of Art (ISOA for short) has a very interesting story; our first professors were all either artists (Tazhib workers, calligraphers, etc.) or writers and poets which are considered part of art in the Islamic world or Iranian culture, they were all religious scholars and worried that art as a great part of the Muslim education is now losing its lights amongst the religious student and there are only a few scholars left that are considered as great artists as well.
This group of art scholars and friends had a friendly meeting every now and then, just between them so that they could keep this community going. Instead of waiting around for others to change anything and build something, they decided they can start teaching what they know about art, Islamic art, and religious art to those religious students that were interested and eager to learn.
These were the first pillars that ISOA was built upon. Our main goal is to familiarize students with Islamic art and art in general. After a few years that passed, we now have great contacts with some of the great artists in Iran from all sorts of artistic disciplines from cinema to traditional art, from literature to graphic design, and many more. And all these schools of art are taught at ISOA.
We want the Muslim community to get as strong as they once were in the field of art and be able to show the world what a beautiful place the world can be if we concentrate on our culture rather than our differences.
You are the Head of International Affairs at the school, how did you embark on this role?
I was introduced to this school by a close friend to help them build their international figure many years ago and since then I became more interested in it than anything else in my professional life. The way they work, the way they looked at art, and how they felt about Islamic and religious art made me want to stay with them and not just help but learn all these beauties as well (well as much as I can anyway).
The subject areas the school teaches is very diverse, can you share some of the areas of expertise?
As I mentioned before the fields that we teach at the moment include a lot of subjects, some that might not be called art in other parts of the world but it is considered art In the Islamic world, especially in Iranian culture. In general, we have two main departments in ISOA, 1. The Academic approach 2. Practical approach.
Our academic branch is a university like any other university and we have majors that include teaching and learning about philosophical bases of art, religious art, and Islamic art as well as some more practical majors such as Islamic-Persian traditional architecture, handicrafts, graphic design, photography and cinema.
But our School is greatly known for its strong point of view towards the Philosophy and Hikmat behind religious and Islamic art. Some of the greatest scholars in this field are part of our teaching committees such as Professor Dr. Avani professor Dr. Pazouki Dr. Zharfa Dr. Mousavi and many more.
Our second department (or branch) is teaching art in a more practical approach and we teach all sorts of art like:
Tazhib, calligraphy, photography, writing, script writing, painting and traditional literature.
The school also covers literary fiction and cinema, how do you teach this in relation to Islamic art?
Islamic thoughts work through all aspects of life and Iran has shown a great example of how an Islamic cinema should be throughout these years through its cinema and Television.
We believe cinema can be organized with Islamic thoughts and at the same time familiarize the viewer with true humane values. At this point, ISOA students and teachers have produced, written different scripts, and directed many films, movies, and serials for Iran’s television and cinema.
What are your thoughts on contemporary Islamic art and how does the school address and educate on this?
Contemporary Islamic art is the evolved form of traditional Islamic art, with more diversity, beauty and great details countries like Iran are trying their best to keep different forms of this art alive and turn them into daily used artworks like they used to be throughout history.
ISOA has some sub-branches that have been established to help us in our pass and goal achieving. One of these sub-branches is a traditional handcraft-making company that is trying to produce and design traditional handcrafts according to contemporary needs. We have the same thing about Islamic arts and we are adjusting these arts so that they can be used for contemporary needs. Examples for this are countless.
The library of Islamic School of Art is currently active with over 35,000 volumes in Persian, Arabic and Latin. It plans to become one of the most important libraries in the Muslim world in the field of Religion and Art within the next decade. How are you working towards this?
Well since the last update of our information we have added more than 10 thousand books to this library (so our books are close to 50 thousand at the moment). But the number is not as close to the number that we would like it to be. We are a private institute and we are trying to provide as much as we can for our students and staff. One of our annual activities is taking part in some of the biggest book fairs so we can add to our library constantly.
The best thing about our library is that we try to find and buy first edition books or books that are signed by famous authors, so if you ever had the chance to look through the books in the library it’s a good chance that you will find many of these books have a great history of their own.
Why is preserving traditional skills important for the future?
As you know what is now called art in western countries used to be called and is still called in most Arab countries as Fann and the artist as Fannan and I know that your organization is called Bayt al Fann for the same reason (your work is related to art).
And another fact is translating Fann into art is one of the mistakes of translation. Fannan would be best if it was translated to professional. A carpenter a blacksmith an architect and generally whoever creates a thing would be called Fannan but the only condition was that they had to be the master of the work they did.
So all masters were called Fannan and the production process was (and is still called) Fann. Now your question in other words would be why should we preserve our production? And the answer to that is easy in fact it's so easy that no one will ever ask this question.
I believe the only reason that made you ask it is the new look towards art and its differences with the definition that the Islamic world used to look at art or Fann on this matter. I don’t know if I’m confusing your readers or not but this issue has a serious and long discussion which I think needs another place and time to talk about.
What are some of the biggest achievements of the school so far?
From my own personal point of view, I would say our successful students are our best achievement yet but if you are asking about what we have done apart from that I can list a few things:
1. Starting an English art teaching course, in person and online for those interested in Islamic art " www.isoacourses.com ". Now everyone that wants to learn Islamic arts get to learn it directly from the best masters.
2. School of Quranic dramaturgy, is one of our sub-branches that has started to dramatize the Holy Quran in a systematic way for the first time in the world
3. The school of Ketabah Al Quran, is another sub-branch of ISOA that is trying to teach different styles of Islamic calligraphy for the purpose of Quran writing, renewing and preventing different styles of Islamic calligraphy to get lost through history (yes we do have some beautiful styles of calligraphy that have been lost and there are no masters that can write them anymore)
4. Paying attention to the economic portion of art,
5. Staying updated when it comes to Islamic art, we do not stay away from any opportunity to introduce Islamic art and the usage of technology is only one of them
Beyond Iran, how do you engage in the global Islamic art community and do you have many international students?
30 percent of our students are none Iranian students and that is if we exclude the ISOAcourses website and its students (as I mentioned before this website is planned to teach none Iranians who are interested to learn about Islamic art). And we have MOUs signed with more than 20 universities from all over the world, plus we have close relationships with some of the good artistic institutions and artists worldwide.
Can you tell us more about your Islamic art NFT initiative?
Well! NFTs are a new way of introducing art and as I said we are always looking for new ways to introduce Islamic art, so why not NFTs?
Since lots of our students are very good artists we decided to make a website so every one of them that likes to start their chances in the world of NFT can be able to do so with our help. But I have to say we are not fully concentrated on Islamic arts on this matter. the reason for that is that we want to help our students to be able to understand NFTs and since some of them work in different styles of art we don’t want to exclude them.
Currently, we are adding to our collections, so far we have
1. A collection of 250 beautiful Islamic artworks that are presented on the Tezos blockchain
2. A collection of 2750 figures that represent a cycle of human feeling
3. Our main project is a collection containing 10 thousand individually drawn Islamic artworks from Tazhib, calligraphy, Gol-o-Morgh, miniature and etc.
We will be adding more collections as we go along but at the moment we are teaching our students about what NFT’s are and how they can profit from them, so as soon as anyone new enters the market our collection of NFT collections would grow too.
We are thinking of creating a new platform just for Islamic art if more Muslim artists decide to join the NFT club but at the moment that is not an option.
Will digital Islamic art be an area we need to consider for the future?
No! Because if you are thinking to use this art in the digital world as a future plan then I have to say it would be too late. I have to add right now is already a bit late to start entering the digital art world.
What I'm trying to say is that Islamic art has great potential and you can use it as you please and where ever you please as long as you use it correctly.
Some of my close friends are already into digital arts and some of their best works are the ones they use Islamic arts in it.
So digital arts without Islamic arts would be imperfect.
What are your thoughts on the future of Islamic art, heritage and culture?
I’m really optimistic about this art, anything beautiful will eventually take over what is not. With the growth of this pandemic that art has nothing to do with beauty in the western countries, they are decreasing the value of art in a way that fewer and fewer people are becoming interested in art. When masterpieces are made out of toilets in these countries I can easily see the end of this type of art in the near future.
What I’m trying to say is that for people beauty matters and Islamic art is one of the most beautiful arts that I have seen, so it will and has always been appreciated especially nowadays when you can teach and learn from all over the world without even leaving your house. At this point countries like Iran and Turkey are doing great jobs teaching everyone that is interested in the arts.
But I think with more growth of this art more politicians from western countries would try and fight its growth because Islamic art is coherent with our culture and you can already see what they are trying to do with our culture even in our own countries. Keeping our heritage alive and as pure as possible should be every Muslim country and cultural institute.
For more information check out https://isoacourses.com
The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.