Journal 8 February 2021
Case Study: Dr Idries Trevathan
Dr Idries Trevathan, a specialist in Islamic art history, studied at The Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts firstly on an MA degree course at the turn of the millennium and returned to research for his PhD in 2010.
He has since risen to the heady ranks of curator of Islamic Art at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, where he built the centre’s Islamic arts collection from scratch and now continues to develop education programmes and curate major international exhibitions.
Idries, raised in the UK in the Islamic faith, believes his experience at the school taught him how traditional arts transcend a range of cultures.
“STUDYING AT THE SCHOOL EXPOSED ME TO A WIDE RANGE OF NUANCED CULTURAL TRADITIONS, VALUES AND IDENTITIES, ENABLING ME TO APPRECIATE AND BRIDGE DIFFERENT WORLD PERSPECTIVES,” – DR IDRIES TREVATHAN
“This has had a profound effect on my work; I have come to recognise that Islamic ideas and conceptions, while specific to the Islamic world, did not emerge in a vacuum but were preceded and informed by rich Christian, Jewish and Classical traditions. I learnt from my time at the school that we share a common heritage.”
His supervisor, Dr Emily Pott, Director of Research Programmes at The Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts, said:
“MANY PEOPLE THINK THAT THE SCHOOL IS SIMPLY CONCERNED WITH STUDYING ARTS FROM THE PAST, BUT REALLY WE ARE MOST INTERESTED IN HOW STUDENTS CAN LEARN FROM, AND TAKE INSPIRATION FROM, PAST PRACTICES AND ART FORMS AND USE THEM TODAY.” - DR EMILY POTT, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH PROGRAMMES, SCHOOL OF TRADITIONAL ARTS
“Idries' work is an example of this. Although he was looking at a building from the 17th century, he was interested in its capacity to help us understand more about the potential depth of our own experience of light and colour. Approaching historical objects in this way allows us to learn about ways of thinking and doing things that may be forgotten but are still of value as we face the challenges of life today.”
Idries holds dear the value of traditional art, citing its relevance to audiences today.
“Truly great art is of course timeless. I have found from extensive museum audience research that many examples of Islamic artefacts on view in our museum continue to hold great value, meaning and relevance for modern-day Saudi audiences. As such, I believe we should continue to preserve traditional arts not simply by preserving them in museums but by continuing to practice and celebrate contemporary art practice rooted in tradition.”
Colour, Light and Wonder in Islamic Art by Dr Idries Trevathan was recently published by Saqi Publishers.