Hands holding an open Quran

Hands holding Quran

Materials:  glazed lustreware ceramic, transfer printed
Dimension:  12 centimeters tall
Place acquired:  Islamic bookshop, Brick Lane, London
Place of manufacture:   not known, possibly Turkey

This little ceramic Quran, with its pages open at a significant quotation, serves as an inspirational ornament rather than a tool of worship. I bought it in a small shop in Brick Lane, London that specialised in Islamic books. The Bangladeshi shopkeeper seemed to be pleased by my interest, but at the same time slightly suspicious of it – a tiny illustration of the current unease that must exist for many British muslim communities.

Light blue with a faintly lustrous glaze the little book held cupped in a pair of hands is a powerful piece of semiotics. I cannot read the script so I don’t know what the passage is saying, but the design of the whole object beautifully communicates the idea of cherishing the word of God at a personal level, an idea so fundamental to Islam.

It’s an object that comes out of an islamic tradition so it has to negotiate the islamic proscription on representing figurative subjects in religious art. Here you can see the influence of this tradition and the beautiful compromise that it produces. A pair of human hands and the holy book itself are clearly depicted but in a highly stylised fashion. The design is completely symetrical, without any realism and is vaguely organic looking so that it suggests the leaves and petals of an opening flower – a piece of symbolism that is clearly appropriate to the subject.