Interest in Islamic heritage rises - Museums Association

Interest in Islamic heritage rises

Regional and independent organisations are supporting initiatives, while Everyday Muslim plans a dedicated museum
Profile image for Rob Sharp
Rob Sharp
Support for the wider representation of Muslim and Islamic heritage in British museums is gathering pace, with a mix of regional museums and independent organisations supporting initiatives nationwide.

In January, heritage organisation Everyday Muslim established an archive, including photographs and about 40 oral history interviews with members of London’s south Asian community, at the Bishopsgate Institute. A touring exhibition, We Weren’t Expecting to Stay, considering the experiences of British south Asian Muslims from 1940 to the present day, closed at Watford Museum in April. The organisation’s second annual event, What Matters?, took place in March and gave recommendations for those planning Muslim heritage projects across different sectors.

Everyday Muslim founder Sadiya Ahmed says a permanent museum for British Muslim heritage is a long-term goal. “But at the moment, it’s more important to be able to document as much as possible, because members of the first generation are passing on,” she says. “So a lot of the early history is being lost. It’s important to be able to run projects like ours across the country, to replicate them on a national scale.”

Other recent projects include Revisiting the World of Islam Festival, a discussion held last month to celebrate and raise awareness of the 40th anniversary of the international cultural event.

The Islamic Art and Material Culture Subject Specialist Network is chaired by Rebecca Bridgman, the curator of Islamic and south Asian arts at Birmingham Museums Trust. It has been working with several museums and their Islamic collections, including Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery, the Powell-Cotton Museum in Kent, and Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery in the West Midlands.

Engaging communities

The network, funded by a three-year Arts Council England museums resilience award announced last year, facilitates the sharing of expertise between specialists and has worked with engagement and curatorial professionals to “help regional museums unlock the potential of their Islamic art and material culture collections,” says Bridgman. “It’s a mechanism to help museums use their collections of Islamic art to engage more diverse communities.”

Elsewhere in the city, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s Faith in Birmingham gallery, which opened to the public in February, is displaying one of the earliest surviving manuscripts of the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an.

In Buckinghamshire, the Art of Islam Festival at Bucks County Museum opened in March to showcase exhibits such as carpets and paintings borrowed from institutions such as the British Museum.

In Skipton, the Craven Museum & Gallery’s Faith in Art exhibition, focusing on contemporary Islamic art, closed in April.

Overseas, a group of Berlin museums made headlines last year when it launched “Multaqa”, an initiative to train Syrian and Iraqi refugees as museum guides.

Further ahead, London’s British Museum, with the support of the Albukhary Foundation, will open their Gallery of the Islamic World towards the end of 2018.

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