This catalogue, Power and Protection: Islamic Art and the Supernatural deals with the entirety of the Muslim world with a total emphasis on pre-Modern Islamic cultures through the lens of visual and material culture. It contextualises the art work in three essays reflecting the thematic divisions adopted in the exhibition. The bulk of the publication focuses on material evidence but there is also a significant cultural gaze about occult practices in Islam and the extent to which there has been intellectual and legal discourse over the topic throughout the history of Islam
The contents of the catalogue, the essays, were authored by two of the leading scholars of Islamic occultism. Professor Pierre Lory, Director of the Department of Religious Studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris and Professor Christiane Gruber of Islamic art and material culture at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, with contributions by Francesca Leoni. Nine highlighted objects complement the three chapters, exploring the most compelling artefacts in greater detail. Their selection, a mixture of well-known and unpublished material, combines intellectual interest with broad appeal, allowing readers to appreciate and retain something about their artistic and cultural merits. An illustrated checklist provides a further useful reference for the rest of the exhibits. The book is supported by an updated bibliography and by a practical glossary designed to navigate specialist terminology with ease.
The book has been praised for its candour and the way in which it has made ground breaking inroads into a topic which is considered challenging and understudied. The ability of the book to break down complex topics into a more understandable and thus universal format was duly noted by Jane Jackman in The Art Newspaper(no 286, January 2017, p. 22).
The book was also praised for integrating ‘courtly and demotic aspects of the manifestations of religious belief’. Such a good review occurred in conjunction with the high number of copies sold whilst the exhibition was on show, and the large amounts of flattering reviews which have consequently jettisoned the exhibition to national and international attention.
What is useful about the project is the way in which it has bravely accepted the challenge of unravelling the pre-Modern Islamic world through a visual and material perspective. Sandra Smith for the magazine Cotswoldlife deems it a colourful and informative exhibition bringing a new dimension to both Islam and the supernatural (http://www.cotswoldlife.co.uk/out-about/places/power-and-protection-islamic-art-and-the-supernatural-at-the-ashmolean-1-4749307). Likewise Cleo Cantone for Islamtoday praises the exhibition and the book, saying the objects’ inherent historical and aesthetic value, combined with their provenance from several important worldwide collections of Islamic art, including local ones in Oxford, make this an engaging experience’ http://islam-today.co.uk/power-and-protection-islamic-art-and-the-supernatural.