Holland Park Road, situated off the bustling High Street Kensington, London is the address of Leighton House Museum, the former studio-house of the Victorian artist Lord Frederic Leighton (1830-1896). During the first week of March, this museum hosted a week long series of workshops exploring the importance of calligraphy to Islamic faith and culture, led by Mohammed Abu Mustafa, a renowned expert on Arabic calligraphy and Islamic art.
Upon entering the stately house, one is awestruck at the richness of blues, turquoise, white and gold, which adorn the Arab Hall. From the calligraphy running along the walls to the mosaic floor to the dome above with stained glass windows, the deep appreciation for the craftsmanship of Muslim lands transports the onlooker to another time and place altogether.
The workshops and forthcoming events, which home in on the rich Islamic décor at Leighton House Museum are the project of Alan Kirwan, the Museum's Education Officer. As British historic sites are being used more as educational centres, Alan started his post with a `keen interest to see the Islamic collection used as a resource to draw communities together.'' To this end, he organised the calligraphy workshop to tie in with the Islamic New Year. In relation to schools, Alan feels there is much to be gained by `looking at education through a cross curricular perspective and not by the limits of the National Curriculum. Coming to Leighton House becomes a study of the Orient, art, design, civilisations-both British Victorian and Islamic, to gain a deeper understanding of who we are. Historic sites can be used to bring cultures together, instead of putting up divisions.'
Bridging cultures, the Museum surely has achieved, when one finds Abu Mustafa in Leighton's art studio on the first floor, where a display of the artists prints surround the ink and paper-laden tables of the workshop.
During the week, school children and adults from a variety of interests and backgrounds have sat with the artist, as he talked them through the significance of writing Arabic - the language God chose in the Qur'an as a sacred art.
Alan hopes to build on the positive experience of this event by planning children's workshops on the art of henna painting, hosting a drama group called the 'Dervishes' and constructing a bedouin tent in the garden area, during Architecture Week with a series of arts and crafts taking place within it, at the end of June.
Leighton House Museum offers visitors a genuine feel of a stately Victorian home with the artists works displayed throughout particularly in the well-maintained library and dining hall. What visitors may not expect is the magic of standing amongst treasures from as far as Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria to name but a few - a welcome time capsule in Holland park.
Part 2 to follow next week
For more information on forthcoming events contact
Inspired by Africa 7 and 8 April 2004
Time: 2pm to 4pm
Venue: Leighton House