Albukhary Islamic Art Gallery of the British Museum | Showcase


This is the Albukhary Islamic art gallery:
the British Museum’s newest permanent space. From sumptuous textiles… to musical instruments…
to ancient Ottoman tiles, the ideas is to create as complete a picture as possible of
life in the Islamic world. In collaboration with the Albukhary Foundation
and Malaysia’s Islamic Arts Museum a team of six curators, led by Venetia Porter, has
spent the last four years on the project. So what we wanted to do with this gallery is
really to try and look at the material culture of a vast region, that starts with West Africa and goes
right up to Southeast Asia and China and to look at the material culture of the Islamic
world, because all of those regions, this broad stretch of regions, either Islam continues
to be the significant religion or in the past was. The material culture coming from this region
is really really exciting and important. And we wanted to try and convey that. The objects in the gallery range from the
seventh century to present day. While many of the pieces are rare and priceless, the curators also wanted to give a snapshot of everyday life That includes commonplace objects like these pierced water filters, attached to domestic earthenware jars. And while they may look decorative, their
purpose – to filter water for drinking – was entirely practical. Games boards like these were also created
for a specific purpose. Chess sets became a popular way of teaching
military strategy. Curator Zeina Klink-Hoppe, who specialises
in Ottoman history, recognises the importance of showcasing daily life, habits and interests. The court was one aspect of this story, but
the life of every day people as they get on with their lives, is also something particularly
important to highlight and emphasise. So we have a small case on the hamam and we
have beautiful embroidered towels that would have been used by the elite in Istanbul and
other cities, but next to them is displayed a little bath scrub with a little dove above
it that comes from Egypt, and it’s a very humble object – you go to the hamam to scrub
off dry skin, but it’s a spectacular object as well. While the gallery is permament, this mini
exhibition – dedicated to the arabesque motif in the Islamic world – is not. The objects here have been loaned by Malaysia’s
Islamic Arts museum and will be on view for just 12 months. We try to tell the story of the arabesque. What is the arabesque? Which is a leaf scroll that developed throughout
one thousand years. An it covers all the Islamic world from Iberaian
peninsula to Southeast Asia and China. The British Museum also commissioned this
contemporary piece of art: 21 Stones by Idris Khan. 21 poems have been designed to look as though
they’ve been thrown against the wall. It’s based on one of the rituals of the
Hajj: throwing stones at the jumerat or the devil. After years in the making, the curators hope
this new gallery space showcases both the diversity and the complexity of the Islamic
world and its influence from West Africa to Southeast Asia. Miranda Atty, TRT World, London

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