Saturday, April 04, 2015

British Museum to open major new gallery dedicated to the culture of the Islamic world in wake of Isis militants destroying historical sites in Middle East

  • New permanent exhibition will open in the heart of the museum in 2018
  • Will showcase artifacts from the beginning of Islam to the 16th century
  • 'Generous' donation from Malaysian fund enabled museum to create space
  • Comes as artifacts in the Middle East come under threat from extremists
The British Museum has announced it is to open a major new gallery dedicated to the Islamic world in the wake of fundamentalists destroying historical sites across the Middle East.
The museum revealed it will open the new Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World at the end of October 2018, which will bring together a collection showcasing ceramics, jewellery and paintings - some of which are not currently on display.
The decision to open the new space, which will be created in two unused galleries on the first floor at the heart of the world-famous museum, comes at a particularly sensitive time for Islamic art and heritage.
In recent years, it has come under threat from fundamentalists - with pictures of ISIS militants destroying some of the religion's most important historical sites shocking the world.

In February, thugs used power drills and sledgehammers to smash invaluable ancient items which were housed in a museum in Mosul, while this month they destroyed 3,000-year-old Nimrud and 2,000-year old Hatra - both Unesco world heritage sites.

Two years earlier, extremists linked to Al Qaeda torched the £16-million Ahmed Baba Institute, home to some 20,000 ancient documents on culture, science and geography, in Timbuktu.

The destruction - the most recent of which was described as a 'war crime' by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon -  has left experts and history lovers heartbroken. 

The project's lead curator Venetia Porter told the Evening Standard: 'What’s been destroyed in Iraq belongs to all of us.' 

Ms Porter told the London newspaper the new, permanent space will provide a contrast to the modern Middle Eastern art collection the museum has been building up for a couple of years. 

The first of the two gallery spaces will look at the region from the beginning of Islam to about 1500, highlighting the arts of the great medieval dynasties.

The second will focus on objects representing the pinnacle of creativity under the three major dynasties that dominated the Islamic world from the 16th century: the Ottomans, Safavids and Mughals.  

Both promise to 'radically' redisplay the museum's important collections, using dark areas to show off light-sensitive materials which can currently not be displayed. 

But the gallery will also look at the importance of the role of non-Muslim communities on impacting history.

'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,' said Ms Porter. 

When the space opens, it will be the first new permanent gallery created in almost a decade - thanks to a 'generous' donation from the Malaysia-based Albukhary Foundation.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: 'This generous gift from The Albukhary Foundation makes it possible for us to completely redisplay 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.'

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