Islamic Bookbinding Exhibition 2017

Date: 08 May 2017 - 31 December 2017

Venue: Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia


In this digital age, many book readers have traded physical books with electric devices, preferring to use e-books to read their favourite novels. Even though there are still many of us out there who love the feel of books and the tactile feel of turning a page, it is feared that physical books will one day become a relic of a pre-digital era.

For some, their constant love for books and book design will ensure that the physical books will continue to be in the market.

So, here is the chance for all bibliophiles to learn more about books, specifically the art of bookbinding at the Islamic Bookbinding exhibition at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM), which runs till Dec 31 this year. The exhibition will give its visitors a glimpse into the rich heritage of book bindery, a craft cultivated across the Mamluk, Safavid, Qajar and Ottoman dynasties.

The Islamic Bookbinding exhibition showcases around 70 artefacts that comprehensively portray the beautiful elements of bookbinding from around the Islamic world. The exhibition is divided into a few sections: it first begins with the history and types of bookbinding, followed by the designs and techniques, and ends with the constituting elements that form a bookbinding. The cover materials are mainly leather, lacquerwork and textiles in addition to few bindings made with metal and decorated with precious gems. Some manuscripts also come with additional housings such as boxes, pouches and slipcases.

Visitors will discover the techniques employed in decorating leather bindings that include tooling, stamping, gilding, and painting. Lacquer bindings, on the other hand, portray extremely fine watercolor illuminations, as well as floral and iconographic decoration.

The art of bookbinding not only concentrated on refining the design of the covers but also focused on other constituting elements such as the doublure (inner cover), and the flap – a feature associated with Islamic bindings. Other elements include the fore-edge flap and the textblock themselves which were elaborately designed while serving their purpose.

One of the masterpieces displayed in the exhibition is an outstanding pair of royal Qajar lacquered book covers which is notable for its exquisite detailing, rich colours, and intricate decoration. The covers depict Fath ‘Ali Shah Qajar (r. 1797 –1834) and his son Mohammad Shah Qajar (r. 1834 –1848). This courtier iconography—a painting school in the Qajar period—documents the early Qajar rulers’ reliance on portraiture to chronicle their dynastic lineage by locating themselves in the pantheon of powerful and prestigious Iranian kings legendary, ancient, and modern.

Moreover, the display includes the stunning Qur’an binding from the East Coast of Malay Peninsula. The binding, in red morocco leather, shows elaborate pendant decorations around the central medallion. These decorative pieces are attached on the binding using gold paper. Besides that, other Qur’ans from the Malay world also include bindings made from textile. The highlight of these textile bindings is shown on the detailed stitching of the endband placed over the spine. This is a unique part of the exhibition that shows the art of bookbinding in Malay Peninsula which will aid visitors to truly understand about the design and technique of this region.

In conjunction with the exhibition, IAMM has published a special catalogue that features 72 artefacts from the collection of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia. The catalogue, of the same name, unveils the beauty and intricacy of the bookbindings of Islamic world and other related artefacts.

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