tampabay.com

Mastering the art of diplomacy

By JESSICA BRADY
Published July 13, 2007


Emily Neumeier shifts the black beans and rice from side to side on her plate as she explains the importance of art and Islam.

Islamic art wasn't her initial focus, but today, it consumes her studies and her travels.

Now, the South Tampa native works alongside a curator for an exhibition on the Koran that will be the first of its kind at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Neumeier, 22, has been submerged in both art and religion since she was 8. Her mother, Mary Neumeier, would take her and her twin brother, Andrew, to every art museum in the area.

The siblings attended St. John's Episcopal School, and Emily later graduated from Hillsborough High School's International Baccalaureate program. She was accepted as a presidential scholar to Boston College. It would be her first time living away from home.

Cultural diversity played a key role in her choice to attend Boston College, where she studies Islamic art. Initially, her interest lay with classical and Roman art, but when she discovered the mysteries of Islam, she was hooked.

"Compared to other focuses in art history, Islamic art is very understudied and there is a lot of work to be done," Neumeier said.

In June, she returned to Tampa after spending six months in Cairo, where she studied Arabic. At the Lincoln Restaurant on Columbus Drive, she discussed her passion to bridge cultural gaps about Islam through art.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she has visited Israel and Palestine, where she witnessed the complex tension between the two countries.

"I came back from Israel and Palestine very upset because I realized we live in an age of fear, largely due to ignorance and misunderstanding," Neumeier said.

When she returned to Boston, she founded the first college chapter of the Daughters of Abraham, a women's interfaith book club. The club brings together Christian, Muslim and Jewish women to discuss their differences and similarities.

"Since she has a basic understanding of her own religion, Episcopalian, she's able to reach out and find similarities with other religions," her mother said.

In Egypt, Neumeier studied ancient Islamic scripts to prepare for her senior thesis. She will curate an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts called "Kufic Qur'an: Early Calligraphy From the World of Islam."

"I would like to explore how Islamic writing and reading is an art in and of itself," she said.

She will catalog 28 pages from multiple versions of the Koran and focus on their calligraphy, as well as various objects, tombstones and metal work. This is the first time calligraphy will be exhibited as an art form and cataloged at the Boston museum.

"She's incredible because she's such a serious scholar at such a young age," said Woodman Taylor, the museum's assistant curator of South Asian and Islamic art.

Call Neumeier a diplomat of the art world.

"It's fascinating and great any time someone is willing to commit themselves to raising awareness and building bridges through these kinds of events," said Ahmed Bedier, executive director of the Tampa Chapter Council on American-Islamic Relations. "It brings about understanding instead of conflict."

Neumeier wants to involve as many Muslims in the exhibit as possible through a symposium of scholars and calligraphers and a recitation of the Koran.

"It's important to identify the similarities between us, but also to recognize and celebrate our differences," Neumeier said.

Her exhibition will open on Feb. 2 and run through November.

Her plans to educate and bring communities together will not end there. She will graduate next year and pursue a master's degree in art history.

She plans to one day become a college professor and teach others the importance of art in the world.

Jessica Brady can be reached at jbrady@sptimes.com or 813 226-3339.

Fast Facts:

 

Emily Neumeier

Age: 22

Home: South Tampa

Travels: Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Spain, Kenya and London

Studies: Boston College, art history major with focus on Islamic art

Languages: Latin, Arabic, Spanish and French

Claim to fame: Creating an exhibit featuring various pages of the Koran, a first of its kind at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

Favorite musician: rapper Jay-Z