September 7, 2024–January 5, 2025
Wonderment is said to be a state of perplexity that comes over a human being when he fails to understand the reason for a thing or how it affects him.
—Zakariyya al-Qazwini (d. 1283)
Wonders of Creation explores intersections of art and science in Islamic intellectual and visual culture from the 7th century to the present day, using the lens of “wonder” as defined by a celebrated 13th-century Islamic cosmography. Written in Arabic and Persian by the scholar Zakariyya al-Qazwini (d. 1283), The Wonders of Creation and Rarities of Existence catalogues the marvels of the universe in a single, richly illustrated book. The text contains anecdotes about the wondrous qualities of the natural world and its inhabitants, all created by God. Beginning with the stars and heavens, it then travels across the earth to conclude with humanity and its crafts and traditions.
Using wonder as the vehicle to introduce and explore Islamic culture, Wonders of Creation will illuminate the extraordinary global impact of science and artistic production from the Islamic world while introducing new audiences to its diverse geographies and multifaceted visual cultures. Over 100 works, including illustrated manuscripts and paintings, maps, scientific instruments, magic bowls, luster dishes, architectural elements, and contemporary art, will evoke sentiments of wonder through a visual journey inspired by Qazwini’s text. As an encyclopedic cosmography, Qazwini’s text is, simply put, a description of the universe; in the exhibition, it will serve as a framework carrying the reader through the orbits of the cosmos from the heavens to the earth. The exhibition begins with an introduction to the original text and its impact. Three major sections on the celestial and terrestrial spheres and humankind examine topics such as astronomy, astrology, natural history, mineralogy, alchemy, medicine, geometry, and architecture through objects from Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East to Central, South, and Southeast Asia and the modern diaspora. Contemporary art, including two commissions by Ala Ebtekar and Hayv Kahraman, and a collaboration with San Diego’s Balboa Art Conservation Center (BACC), will bring the spirit of wonder and human curiosity into the present day.
This exhibition is made possible with support from Getty through its PST ART: Art & Science Collide initiative and Bank of America, and is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and the members of The San Diego Museum of Art.
Featured at top right: Abdul Rahman ibn Umar, alias Abu’l Hasan Sufi (illustrator), “The Constellation of the Dragon (al-Tinnin),” page from a manuscript of the Mirror of Constellations (Mirat al-Nujum). Surat, India, 1740. Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper. The San Diego Museum of Art, Edwin Binney 3rd Collection, 1990.1013.