British Museum announces major gallery dedicated to Islamic world

SHAFAQNA – The British Museum today announced that it is to open a major new gallery dedicated to the Islamic world.

The new space will open in 2018 and include exhibits currently not on display as well as re-displayed objects.

The area, which will replace the existing Islamic World gallery on the north side of the museum and is considerably bigger, will lie at the heart of the museum.

The museum said the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World aims to give visitors an understanding of the diverse and wide-ranging cultures of the Islamic world.

Venetia Porter, lead curator on the project, said it was particularly important in the context of Islamic State’s destruction of artefacts in Iraq at sites such as Nimrud where they reportedly bulldozed the ancient city earlier this month.

She said: “These are our shared histories. What’s been destroyed in Iraq belongs to all of us. This new gallery we hope will enable people to look at the cultures of Islam from Spain to China in a deep and different way.”

Porter said the museum had been wanting to extend the Islamic gallery “for some time”.

The new gallery will increase space dedicated to the area from 479 to 612 square metres.

She said: “What we’re excited about is to be able to show the full breadth of it. What we’ve been building in recent years is the art of the contemporary Middle East. To be able to show the contrast, the breadth of creativity from early Islam to the present day, the mix of objects I’m really excited about.”

Among the exhibits to go on display will be enamelled glass mosque lamps, miniature paintings and important archaeological material from Sammara in Iraq as well as contemporary works on paper or possibly video art.

The gallery has been made possible following an undisclosed “significant” donation from the Malaysia-based Albukhary Foundation, There will also be dark areas dedicated to rotating displays of light sensitive material, such as Persian and Mughal paintings and calligraphies and ethnographic material which currently cannot be displayed.

The museum said it hopes to encourage increased public engagement with Islamic art and culture while placing it in the narrative of Islamic civilisations a much wider context.

It comes as the museum was honoured with the inaugural annual Prize for Educators for its touring exhibition “Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam”, first shown at the British Museum in 2012, by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.

The space for the new gallery will be formed by joining rooms 42 to 45 on the first floor of the museum – currently closed to visitors – next to the galleries of early and modern Europe with the aim of presenting a more joined up narrative between medieval Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The first of the two gallery spaces will examine from the beginning of Islam to about 1500, highlighting the arts of the great medieval dynasties. The second gallery will show objects that represent the “pinnacle of creativity” under the Ottamans, Safavids and Mughals – the three major dynasties dominating the Islamic world from the 16th Century – including ceramics, jewellery and paintings from the museum’s collection.

It will also feature objects and textiles from Central Asia and Muslim South and South-East Asia, which will link to displays in other parts of the Museum.

The re-display will also highlight the importance of non-Muslim communities including Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Zoroastrian.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: “This generous gift from The Albukhary Foundation makes it possible for us to completely re-display one of the world’s most important Islamic collections.

“These new galleries will allow us to present our collection in the context of world cultures exploring the history, complexity and diversity of Islamic cultures across the world from Sub Saharan Africa to Malaysia and Indonesia.

“I am delighted that the British Museum’s exhibition Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam has been awarded the Prize for Educators, by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, this recognition demonstrates how important it is to build and develop our collection to better understand the history of the Islamic world.”

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