The geometric patterning in Islamic tiles, carpets and textiles bespeak the Chief Architect, and how He brings forth the beauty of the physical world through eternal shapes. Implicit in these designs are dualities, heaven and earth, light and shadow, and of course male and female. The curating tradition of museums focuses on the male element in Islamic art. From the great monarchs like Iran’s Shah Abbas, Turkey’s Suleyman the Magnificent and India’s Shah Jahan, museums display their silk ceremonial gowns, jade-handled swords and brocaded riding boots. Objects made by or for women rarely figure in the exhibit cases.

The scene is Turkey in the mid-to-late 70s. A young male college student hops onto a bus. He sits next to a cute female student from his class, but before they can strike up a conversation, they see a right-wing passenger, walk up to another passenger and hit him on the head with a hammer. The young woman screams. The two students get off the bus, only for the female student to call the male student a “disgusting fascist” and leave in anger.

The Hijaz, that part of the Arabian Peninsula which contains the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, was long subject to imperialism, but not of Western variety: it was instead subject to the Ottomans. Although nominally under Ottoman suzerainty for centuries, it was ironically 19th-century British imperialism that forced Istanbul to attempt to consolidate its control over the region.

In 1480, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who had conquered Constantinople fewer than three decades earlier, sat for a portrait by the Venetian painter Gentile Bellini. Bellini had been sent to Istanbul to fulfill a request for a “un bon depentor que sapia retrazer”—“a good painter who knows how to paint portraits”. The Sultan apparently wanted his portrait done.

Two men stand in front of a vegetable and fruit stall, completely absorbed by their own private conversation. Behind them, two other, younger men intimately shake hands on leaving the “Cafés Salonu” while a boy next to them is trying to wipe the water and trash from the sidewalk. The whole setting appears cinematic, the characters shimmering in the moody atmosphere engendered by the beam of the street light.