Qatar Museums is proud to present an exhibition that showcases a collection of rare luxury textiles from Iran – Fashioning an Empire: Textiles from Safavid Iran – on view at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) from 23 October through 20 April 2024.

The exhibition, to be displayed at the Sheikh Saoud Gallery in MIA, highlights the importance of silk in the vibrant social, economic and artistic life of the Safavid empire (1501-1736).

Fashioning an Empire: Textiles from Safavid Iran was first conceived and presented at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art in Washington, DC, and shown as part of the Qatar-USA 2021 Year of Culture.

The exhibition is part of Qatar Creates, the year-round national cultural movement that curates, promotes and celebrates the diversity of cultural activities in Qatar and connects residents and global audiences with Qatar’s creative industries.

Expanded concept

Planned under the direction of MIA curator Nicoletta Fazio, the exhibition expanded on the original concept. The more than 100 works on view, drawn from MIA and the permanent collections of Qatar Museums as well as loans from the Qatar National Library, also include a wide selection of artefacts, among them 20 precious brocade silk textiles and 12 carpets from the Safavid period. These textiles were considered among the most desirable luxury commodities traded across the globe at the time.


The exhibition is further enriched by a set of four full-length portraits which provide a glimpse into the diverse population that characterised the Safavid imperial capital.

For the display at MIA, the exhibition’s narrative has been expanded to include a new section that embraces contemporary fashion designs.

M7, Qatar’s epicentre for innovation and entrepreneurship in fashion and design, engaged a group of local artists to create garments inspired by the exquisite textiles showcased in the exhibition. This part of the exhibition is supervised by MIA curator Tara Desjardins.

Four-part exhibition

This exhibition begins with a presentation of the geographical and historical setting in which the empire’s ruler, Shah ‘Abbas I, established the silk monopoly and state-funded textile industry.

The second part focuses on Isfahan, the capital at the time, and the empire’s marketplace. The third part explores the art and practices of self-representation in Safavid society through fashion, pairing historical textiles with contemporary illustrations and paintings.

The fourth and final section, Fashion Forward, bridges the past with the present, displaying a selection of specially commissioned pieces, garments and handbags by Qatar-based designers inspired by Safavid textiles from the MIA collection.

Cultural exchange

Qatar Museums Chairperson HE Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said that the presentation of the exhibition in Washington, DC was a great highlight of the Qatar-USA 2021 Year of Culture, and a shining example of how cultural exchange brings people together and fosters mutual understanding.

She said that nothing could have been more appropriate since cultural exchange is the very theme of the fascinating exhibition.

We are now exceptionally proud to showcase magnificent works from the Qatar Museums collections, and amplify their presentation, in this enhanced version of the exhibition, for the enjoyment and education of our public in Qatar and our many visitors from around the world.

According to MIA Director Dr Julia Gonnella, artwork originating from Iran represents the largest holding in MIA’s collection, and until now, they have not had the opportunity to display many of the pieces. She said that through the presentation of their collection, they hope to deepen the understanding and appreciation for Islamic art and demonstrate the vast diversity of Islamic culture across the world.

SEE ALSO: Fashioning an Empire: Textiles from Safavid Iran 

Check out Marhaba’s FREE e-Guides for everything you need to know about Qatar.