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Photo of chest
Among the exhibit pieces is this 75-year-old heirloom chest from Mindanao in the Philippines. It’s made of tropical wood with a mother-of-pearl inlay.

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News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

March 9, 2006

NIU Anthropology Museum exhibit examines
Islamic expressions in Southeast Asian cultures

DeKalb, Ill. — A new exhibit opening soon at the Northern Illinois University Anthropology Museum will explore the different expressions of Islam in Southeast Asian cultures.

“In light of the events unfolding around the world, there are a lot of stereotypes about the Islamic religion,” said Nagasura Madale, guest curator of the exhibit. “Our hope is people will leave the museum with a better understanding and appreciation of the rich tradition of Islam and of the cultural diversity among Muslims in Southeast Asia.”

“Islam in Southeast Asia: Common Themes, Diverse Expressions” will open March 20 and run through the summer at the Anthropology Museum, located in the Stevens Building on campus. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays or by appointment.

Artifacts featured in the new exhibit will include religious or ceremonial clothing, brassware, banners, woodcarvings, paintings and Arabic writings.

The exhibit will trace the history of Islam, the life of Mohammed and the spread of Islam to Southeast Asia through trade. It also will closely examine the overlay of Islamic values in all Southeast Asian cultures, as well as the underlying foundation of folk traditions and customs that pre-date the rise of Islam.

“The core elements of Islam are the same in Southeast Asia as in the Middle East,” said Ann Wright-Parsons, museum director. “But expressions of Islam vary widely across individual cultures. Each culture—be it Southern Thai, Malay, Indonesian or Filipino—gives its own unique flavor to Islam.”

“We demonstrate this fusion between folk tradition and Islam in a number of artifacts,” Madale added. For example, a long ceremonial cloth known as a lalansai is adorned with traditional Islamic symbols as well as a dragon.

“In the arts, you see that Islam didn't completely eliminate folk traditions; there was a degree of accommodation,” Madale said.

While the exhibit will feature artifacts from various Southeast Asian cultures, it will have a special focus on the guest curator's native Maranao people of Mindanao Island in the Philippines. Madale serves as vice president for research and extension at Capitol University there.

He is no stranger to NIU, however. Madale was a graduate student at Northern in 1978 under the Fulbright Enrichment Program. He also serves as a project coordinator for the ACCESS Philippines initiative. For the third consecutive spring, the initiative will bring a group of young people from the southern Philippines to NIU for an intensive one-month training institute promoting conflict resolution and interethnic and interfaith dialogue.

“Every student who has participated in the institute has brought two cultural items to NIU, one for his or her host parents and one for the museum,” Madale said. “Over the years, the museum has acquired a number of artifacts this way.”

Some of those items will be among those displayed in the current exhibit, although the majority of artifacts are from the museum's substantial Southeast Asian collection.

The museum exhibit is being funded through a major grant from the Illinois Humanities Council. Related mini-exhibits also are being made available free of charge for a one-month loan to libraries and communities. Libraries in Sycamore, Rockford and Belvidere and at Kishwaukee College are among those planning displays.

For more information, contact the NIU Anthropology Museum at (815) 753-0230.