“Arts of Islam”, a national exhibition to travel through Islamic culture


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Islamic arts, a past for a present”: A fairly ambitious title, like this eventful project put together in just eight masterpieces. At the start of 2021, when France is going through a health crisis, the government invites the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of National Education to join forces in order to put in place a strong cultural action that can promote dialogue between cultures in a time when identity and religious tensions are at the heart of society. Yannick Lintz, general curator of heritage and director of the Islamic arts department at the Louvre, had the idea of ​​setting up a national exhibition that would present Islamic culture through its historical and artistic heritage. An odyssey through a civilization that is often “misunderstood and misunderstood”, as the curator of this exhibition emphasizes.

A shared heritage

From Tourcoing to Marseille, visitors to each of the 18 exhibitions will be greeted by the same mapping of the Arab world, showing the extent of this vast territory and its different artistic centers: from the borders of China to India, the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe. A geographical and cultural epic which allows us to discover the richness of the civilizations which crossed it through a video which transports us from the Mughal capital of Fatehpur Sikri in India, to the former Persian stronghold of the Safavid dynasty in Isfahan, in passing through Cairo from the Fatimids or Uzbekistan from Tamerlane. The 18 caravanserai exhibitions mark as many stages in this journey to an unknown land that the works on display shed light on.

As the curator explains, “Islamic art has been present at the Louvre since 1973, most of whose pieces once belonged to royal families fond of oriental objects, from Louis XIV to Francis I, who already had relations with Suleiman the Magnificent. It is a shared heritage, because although the objects we present may have distant origins, they are part of our national heritage. since the middle ages.

These works also reflect the circulation of ideas and people at the time, but also the plural heritage of France, whose treasures of medieval churches are full of Islamic relics, The treasures of medieval churches in France are full of islamic relics, like this carved olive tree from the city’s cathedral exhibited at the Roger Quilliot museum in Clermont-Ferrand, or an Egyptian rock crystal lion found in a church and probably bequeathed by an Auvergne aristocrat who fought alongside Napoleon during his Egyptian campaign.

Changing our outlook on Islam

A common heritage which must also contribute to changing the way we look at Islam, but above all on a culture which goes beyond the religious and spiritual sphere, as Yannick Lintz reminds us: “This exhibition has several challenges, including that of fight preconceived ideas by showing that Islamic culture represents cultural diversity which extends far beyond religion. It is a religious art but also secular, as can be European art.

And the diversity of the objects represented bears witness to this. Most of them were collected by European travelers and 19th and 20th century scholars who passionate about the orient. You can find a leather case from a moroccan quran (Musée du papier à Angoulême), as well as an Iranian ceramic bird dating from the 17th century of Manufacture of Sèvre.

It is therefore a cultural exhibition, but also a political one, which intends to create links through art and education, as the curator reminds us: “Cultural policy is always political. And I hope that this project will allow us to see Islamic civilization from another angle than that of terrorism and radicalism, but rather that of beauty ”.

To achieve this, a colossal cultural mediation project was undertaken in collaboration with the Louvre, the Réunion des Musées Nationaux and the Ministry of National Education. Educational booklets, a website and a series of distance and face-to-face training have been set up by Yannick Lintz himself, in order to support cultural mediators in the regions as well as teachers wishing to integrate this exhibition into their program with their students.

Young people need to know where they come from in order to project themselves into the future, which the event does not forget by also offering a window on contemporary artists like the german and lebanese cartoonist Lena Merhej, or the young Franco-Algerian videographer Katia Kameli.

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