1. Seated youth reading, circa 1625–26, opaque watercolour, ink and gold on paper. 21.9cm
x 14.7cm. Isfahan, Iran.

New Islamic Gallery at the British Museum

Following the refurbishment of the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia, which opened in November 2017, it is the turn of the British Museum's outstanding collection of Islamic art to be displayed in an exciting new setting. Set out in a specially designed first-floor space, the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World is named after its Malaysian-based philanthropic organisation that has funded it and replaces the John Addis Gallery of Islamic Art near the museum's North Entrance.

The new gallery will have low-light areas for the display of light-sensitive materials, such as the stunning 14th-century Persian and 16th-century Mughal manuscript paintings, such as Emperor Akbar's Hamzanama, and magnificent Ottoman and Central Asian textiles. The exhibits come from all areas of the Islamic world: Spain, the Middle East, Africa, India, Central Asia and Moslem South-East Asia. These will be displayed in chronological
order, from the 7th century to today. Other treasures on display include: rare 9th-century fragments of figurative wall-paintings from Samarra in Iraq and a 13th-century incense-burner made of intricately inlaid metalwork from Damascus.


2. Standing and pecking doves, 2011, by Manal Dowayan (b 1973), porcelain. 23cm x 20cm.

Relations between European and Islamic culture, the place and role of non-Moslem communities, including Hindu, Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian groups, and the paramount importance of trade and patronage, will all be examined. This is in line with the Albukhary Foundation's policy that was behind Hajj: Journey to the heart of Islam, a highly successful exhibition held in the museum in 2012, which won an award because it displayed '... shared values by paying tribute to major institutions, leading figures and sponsors active in the promotion of values of peace and coexistence'.

Hajj was the brain-child of Venetia Porter, Assistant Keeper of Islamic and Contemporary Middle East. She is also the curator of the new gallery, where visitors can discover how Islamic art developed from the middle of the 19th century onwards and also see examples of modern and contemporary Islamic art.


3. Uzbek woman's ikat coat, 1870s–1920s, silk and cotton. 132cm x 152cm (sleeve to sleeve).


As Venetia Porter explained: 'We want to explore how our collections represent what happened after the collapse of the Ottoman empire, colonialism and the formation of the new nation states taking us right up to the present day. 'This gallery, placed right at the heart of the museum, will demonstrate how all our cultures interconnect and… we hope will enable people to look at the cultures of Islam from Spain to China in a deep and different way.'

In fact, the Albukhary gallery reflects both Porter's wide-ranging and scholarly interests and her inventive
and adventurous spirit. Her knowledge of the Middle East is first-hand because she grew up in the Lebanon with her mother, the celebrated fashion designer Thea Porter, who introduced the exotic fabrics and intricate patterns of the Islamic world to London fashion in the 1970s. Another temporary display, from the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, explores the arabesque, an abstract vegetal motif that was popular across the Islamic world for over 1000 years.

• The Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World will open to the public on 18 October. (www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/news_and.../gallery_of_the_islamic_world.asp)
Dalu Jones

 



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