Ranked the number two thing to do when in Kuala Lumpur on Trip Advisor, The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) provides a unique look into a corner of the Islamic world that is often ignored. Located in tourist-favorite Southeast Asia, Malaysia has a multicultural population, which means great food, unique architecture, and, of course, fascinating art.
At the IAMM, the Chinese, Malay, and Indian Islamic histories are heavily featured. As a religious study graduate from overseas, I was beyond excited to learn more about Islamic art history of my own country that was more mysterious to me than I would like.
The staff informed me that I could keep my backpack in their luggage storage facility to make my visit more comfortable. With the Red Festival Luggage Tag, I could do so without a worry that someone else would mistake my bag for his or hers!
We were greeted by smiling faces who were able to answer any questions we had about the museum and about Islamic art in general. Although a standard adult ticket only costs RM14.00, make sure to see if you qualify for their concession prices. More information on ticket prices can be found here.
One step into this museum and the first thing you’ll notice is its ornate and fine details. In keeping with Islamic art motifs, everything is symmetrical. The architect for the museum definitely did not hold back on implementing geometrical patterns from the floor to the ceiling. After purchasing your ticket, you can take the elevator or take the spiral staircase. We opted for the stairs to take in more of the architecture.
In addition to batik, Malaysia has another national treasure, nasi lemak, a fragrant rice dish. Here you can see our production manager, Kylin, sporting a tote bag with our unreleased nasi lemak print. These will be sold in our Hari Raya gift sets, which you can order here.
If you’re a fan of M. C. Escher’s tessellations, you’ll find a lot to love at the IAMM! Don’t forget to look up, or you’ll miss the majestic designs on the domes. Any first-time visitor will inevitably spend as much time looking up and around as at the exhibits themselves.
Before heading into the galleries, we decided to explore more of the architecture first. After a long day of carrying around my heavy backpack in the sun, sitting by a fountain in the shade with my little light three-way clutch having a sip of tea out of my tumbler felt great.
The famous inverted dome on the first floor definitely makes a grand entrance to the galleries and exhibitions of the museum. Syira, our Administration Specialist, almost dropped her tote bag at the first sight of the white and gold dome.
The inverted dome only marks the beginning!
The museum features many galleries including Quranic manuscripts, architecture, textiles, and jewelry. They have separate sections dedicated just to China, India, and Malaysia as well. One of our favorite sections was the China gallery. As most Chinese in Malaysia are not Muslims, it was both surprising and exciting to see the iconic blue and white Chinese pottery featuring Arabic verses or large scrolls with Quranic verses written in Chinese calligraphy.
My nerdy side was wholly content at the sight of these beautiful scrolls… although Syira and Kylin definitely took the opportunity to tease the religious studies major for not knowing about the Hui Muslim communities in China!
The jewelry section has everything from large chunky necklaces with portraits of kings as their pendants to small dainty necklaces with handpainted floral designs. I particularly enjoyed this section because it really shows what each culture thought to be the most prized in their communities to showcase on precious metals.
“Hey, Syira and Kylin. Do you think our jewelry roll can fit all of these?”
“I think we might need to make a bigger one.”
Other than breathtaking jewelry, the IAMM has an extensive textile section that made our jaws drop in awe of how detailed and intricate some of the designs are. Because many Islamic cultures tend to infuse religion into every aspect of their lives, it’s common to confuse certain fashion preferences for purely religious choices. Just take a look at how beautifully diverse this collection is!
Here you can see the Malay baju kurung and baju kebaya, an Afghan kuchi dress, a Palestinian Bedouin qabbeh, and a Munisak robe from Uzbekistan.
In Malaysian fashion, batik is one of the traditional methods that still can be widely seen worn today. The Malaysian government consistently endorses batik as the national dress, even encouraging civil servants to wear batik to work on certain days of the month. The Batik Boutique has actually been awarded the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) Amplify Award and has partnered with the Malaysian government on multiple projects.
Head coverings can be found in many Islamic and non-Islamic cultures. Here I’m using a batik scarf; Malaysia is a place where you can see them worn in a hundred different ways. Compare this style to that of singer Yuna’s turban. Check out our collaboration with the famous Malaysian singer!
The art of batik painting and blocking spread to Malaysia before the arrival of Islam, and both batik and Islam have remained two irreplaceable parts of Malay culture. To have a hands-on experience of batik, take a batik workshop where you can even try to make your own batik pattern by painting with wax, a technique called canting.
Whilst the IAMM does not showcase any Malaysian batik, you can find a lot in the museum shop. Because of the symmetrical design of the building, the store is a bit hard to spot. It’s located on the first floor next to the inverted dome and the ramps to go up to the permanent galleries. Once you’re there, you can see echoes of Islamic motifs in batik as well, such as repeating patterns and a focus on nature.
You can spot some Batik Boutique products as well, such as a batik scarf, toiletry bag, jewelry roll, and even wooden bangles too. Here is our online store if you love what you see in this photo.
“Wow, I haven’t seen this in a month!” Unlike fast fashion, The Batik Boutique often handles customised orders and manufactures products in small batches. As the black stone toiletry bag has sold out in our studio, Syira was glad to find it at the IAMM shop to match her leather-based tote bag.
A visit to the IAMM really puts into perspective how underrepresented much of the Islamic world is. Rather than a blanket term for similar art forms and cultures, a better way to think about Islamic art would be a canvas that allows for progression and modernization. Practised in Southeast Asia for thousands of years, batik fashion is just as adaptable and malleable as it ever was, especially as Malaysia becomes more culturally diverse.
The Batik Boutique shares a similar vision with the IAMM in honouring the roots of Malaysian fashion and the influences that have shaped it into what it is today. Everything that happens at The Batik Boutique is for the empowerment of our artisans and the preservation of traditional art forms. The Batik Boutique pay our artisans far above the minimum wage, offer them free training and child care, and work around their daily schedules. We do this because we believe producing beautiful products with traditional methods is pointless unless we are also honoring the artists behind them.
You can find all The Batik Boutique products featured in the blog post on our website. Or pop by our studio at:
The Batik Boutique
3, Jalan 26/70a, Desa Sri Hartamas,
50480 Kuala Lumpur
Monday - Friday
8:30 am - 5:30pm
Call or e-mail us about arranging a batik workshop at +60 3-2303 6052 / firstname.lastname@example.org