The New Museum Surveys Art From the Arab World

July 15, 2014

The Western media’s obsession with Middle Eastern conflict has made it easy for American audiences to mistake war and crisis as components of Arab identity. But if there’s anything that the New Museum’s newest exhibition, “Here and Elsewhere,” works to dispel, it’s the fallacy that any single portrayal can summarize the many cultural landscapes around and within the Arabian peninsula.

The exhibition, which opens Wednesday and runs until Sept. 28, documents the work of 45 contemporary artists of Arab origin, marking the first-ever museumwide group show of Arab artists in New York City. The show’s curators were careful to avoid making any blanket statements about art from the Arab world. “We’re looking at a very diverse group of artists who share a fascination with the question of truth through images,” says Massimiliano Gioni, the New Museum’s associate director and the exhibition’s co-curator. “This question is also a question of what constitutes an identity, and how an identity like Arab is constructed through images.”

“Here and Elsewhere” is on view July 16 to Sept. 28 at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, New York, newmuseum.org.

French exhibition captures the visual and visceral spirit of Haj

April 22, 2014

It is the largest exhibition ever held in France on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Hajj, Pilgrimage to the Mecca opened at the Institut du Monde Arabe (Institute of the Arab World) in Paris on April 23, tracing its historical evolution and artists’ impressions of the journey through 230 objects. The items have been curated from public and private collections, including the Louvre, diplomatic archives, university libraries and the British Museum. The exhibition is organised jointly with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Public Library.

Elodie Bouffard, the assistant curator of the exhibition, says the intention is to recreate the route of the pilgrimage through a historical and artistic perspective, immersing the visitor in spaces that, through sound, video and photography, evoke a pilgrim’s day-to-day experience.

“We wanted to show both the collective nature of the Haj as well as its highly personal, spiritual nature. This is a journey that people make together, yet it remains ‘an individual experience’,” says Bouffard. “The exhibition is about the collective imagination and we wanted to enrich a discussion of the Haj through an artistic perspective, offering the visitor images of the journey and gathering that differ from those they might see on television or in the press.”

Exploring the rites and practices associated with the Haj, the exhibition seeks to shed light on the importance of this journey in a believer’s life, as well as its aesthetic dimension.

“The show is a wonderful opportunity to display the work of Islamic artists whose work we value alongside western perspectives. Much of the contemporary art on show comes from Saudi artists but there is also work by Iranian and Algerian artists. We were also keen to highlight the connections between France and the pilgrimage, for example, through the works of artists such as Étienne Dinet, a 19th-century French Orientalist painter who spent decades in Algeria. In 1908, he converted to Islam and undertook the Haj in 1929. Other converts whose work we have on show include the British photographer Peter Sanders.”

For more than 1,350 years, pilgrims have undertaken this important journey to the holy city of Mecca through four major land and sea routes.

“Along with the artistic scope of the exhibition, we’ve included many documents that focus upon the logistics of such an undertaking. For early pilgrims, performing the Haj was a perilous undertaking and many died on the way. Over the past 10 years, the number of pilgrims who gather at Mecca has grown to around three million, so certain architectural infrastructures have been added to cater to this number. A hundred years ago, Mecca could only hold up to 8,000 pilgrims a day. The exhibition also includes architectural maquettes of Masjid Al Haram, which show the development of the largest mosque in the world.”

Visitors are also invited to participate in the show: “We were so moved by the richness of pilgrims’ recollections of their journey when we were preparing the exhibition that we decided to incorporate the means by which visitors can record and share their memories. There is a part of the exhibition where we’ve installed what we call our photomaton, where visitors can photograph themselves and make a three-minute recording of their Haj experience. These recollections will then be uploaded to a freely available website. We also ask visitors to leave material souvenirs of their trip to Mecca. Sometimes these apparently ordinary objects have an emotional charge. In contrast, we also have on show valuable pieces: medieval art objects, textiles and illuminated manuscripts.”

According to Jack Lang, France’s former minister for culture and the current president of the Institut du Monde Arabe, the exhibition is an opportunity for visitors to discover some of the many rich facets of Islam in a country where Muslims represent the second largest religious group.

Film at 9/11 Museum Sets Off Clash Over Reference to Islam

Past the towering tridents that survived the World Trade Center collapse, adjacent to a gallery with photographs of the 19 hijackers, a brief film at the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum will seek to explain to visitors the historical roots of the attacks.

The film, “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” refers to the terrorists as Islamists who viewed their mission as a jihad. The NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who narrates the film, speaks over images of terrorist training camps and Qaeda attacks spanning decades. Interspersed are explanations of the ideology of the terrorists, from video clips in foreign-accented English translations.

The documentary is not even seven minutes long, the exhibit just a small part of the museum. But it has over the last few weeks suddenly become a flash point in what has long been one of the most highly charged issues at the museum: how it should talk about Islam and Muslims.

“The screening of this film in its present state would greatly offend our local Muslim believers as well as any foreign Muslim visitor to the museum,” Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy, the imam of Masjid Manhattan, wrote in a letter to the museum’s director. “Unsophisticated visitors who do not understand the difference between Al Qaeda and Muslims may come away with a prejudiced view of Islam, leading to antagonism and even confrontation toward Muslim believers near the site.”

Museum officials are standing by the film, which they say was vetted by several scholars of Islam and of terrorism. A museum spokesman and panel members described the contents of the film, which was not made available to The New York Times for viewing.

The question of how to represent Islam in the museum has long been fraught. It was among the first issues that came up when the museum began asking for advice in about 2005 from a panel of mostly Lower Manhattan clergy members who had been involved in recovery work after the attacks.

Peter B. Gudaitis, who brought the group together as the chief executive of New York Disaster Interfaith Services, said the museum had rejected certain Islam-related suggestions from the panel, such as telling the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a Muslim cadet with the New York Police Department who died in the attack and was initially suspected as a perpetrator.

 

CAIR’s response:

 

A coalition of American Muslim and Arab-American organizations (see list below) today urged the National September 11 Memorial Museum to consider editing a planned film presentation, “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” because it may lead viewers to wrongly conclude that that the entire faith of Islam is responsible for the 2001 terror attacks.

In an open letter to museum President Joe Daniels and Director Alice Greenwald, the organizations wrote in part:

“We have learned that you have been aware, since at least June 2013, that viewers have found this video confusing and possibly inflammatory. The museum’s own interfaith religious advisory group has repeatedly asked that this video be edited, with their concerns being dismissed.

“According to their testimony, the video:

  • Deploys haphazard and academically controversial terminology, in particular ‘Islamic’ and ‘Islamist’, to generalize, unnecessarily, about al-Qaeda’s acts of terrorism.
  • Does not properly contextualize al-Qaeda as a small organization in comparison to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.
  • Uses stereotypical, accented English for speakers of Arabic in translation.
  • May give some viewers, especially those not familiar with the subtleties of the terminology being used, the impression that Islam, as a religion, is responsible for September 11.

Signatories to the letter include:

  • Samer Khalaf, President, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
  • Lena Alhusseini, Executive Director, Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC)
  • Maya Berry, Executive Director, Arab American Institute (AAI)
  • Nihad Awad, National Executive Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
  • Salam Al-Marayati, President, Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
  • Nadia Tonova, Director, National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC)
  • Sarab Al-Jijakli, President, Network of Arab-American Professionals (NAAP)

Interfaith Panel Denounces a 9/11 Museum Exhibit’s Portrayal of Islam

April 24, 2014

 

Past the towering tridents that survived the World Trade Center collapse, adjacent to a gallery with photographs of the 19 hijackers, a brief film at the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum will seek to explain to visitors the historical roots of the attacks.

The film, “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” refers to the terrorists as Islamists who viewed their mission as a jihad. The NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who narrates the film, speaks over images of terrorist training camps and Qaeda attacks spanning decades. Interspersed with his voice are explanations of the ideology of the terrorists, rendered in foreign-accented English translations.

The documentary is not even seven minutes long, the exhibit just a small part of the museum. But it has suddenly become over the last few weeks a flash point in what has long been one of the most highly charged issues at the museum: how it should talk about Islam and Muslims.

With the museum opening on May 21, it has shown the film to several groups, including an interfaith advisory group of clergy members. Those on the panel overwhelmingly took strong exception to the film and requested changes. But the museum has declined. In March, the sole imam in the group resigned to make clear that he could not endorse its contents.

The screening of this film in its present state would greatly offend our local Muslim believers as well as any foreign Muslim visitor to the museum,” Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy, the imam of Masjid Manhattan, wrote in a letter to the museum’s director. “Unsophisticated visitors who do not understand the difference between Al Qaeda and Muslims may come away with a prejudiced view of Islam, leading to antagonism and even confrontation toward Muslim believers near the site.”

Museum officials are standing by the film, which they say they vetted past several scholars.

The terms “Islamist” and “jihadist” are frequently used in public discourse to describe extremist Muslim ideologies. But the problem with using such language in a museum designed to instruct people for generations is that most visitors are “simply going to say Islamist means Muslims, jihadist means Muslims,” said Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University.

“The terrorists need to be condemned and remembered for what they did,” Dr. Ahmed said. “But when you associate their religion with what they did, then you are automatically including, by association, one and a half billion people who had nothing to do with these actions and who ultimately the U.S. would not want to unnecessarily alienate.”

For his part, Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, defended the film, whose script he vetted.

“The critics who are going to say, ‘Let’s not talk about it as an Islamic or Islamist movement,’ could end up not telling the story at all, or diluting it so much that you wonder where Al Qaeda comes from,” Dr. Haykel said.

The museum declined to make the film available for viewing by The New York Times.

The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/nyregion/interfaith-panel-denounces-a-9-11-museum-exhibits-portrayal-of-islam.html?_r=0

Fox & Friends Host Airs Fake Story About Obama Funding Muslim Museum

The National Report strikes again.

The satirical website, which is less obviously satirical than the Onion (and some would say far less funny) fooled Fox News host Anna Kooimaninto believing its fake story that President Barack Obama was using personal funds to keep a Muslim museum open during the government shutdown.

Of course this juxtaposed perfectly against a story of veterans being denied entry into the World War II memorial, which was probably the National Report’s goal all along.

Prayer, Culture, meetings all within the glass house of Islam

We begin with a five-story building (possibly six), with the mosque or prayer hall on the ground floor, a tea room on the second, a large Islamic bookstore with books in more than ten languages ​on the third, a museum of Islamic culture and cultural center on the fourth and offices and international centers on the fifth. The space will be six thousand square meters, all in glass, steel and stone, as proposed by the architectural designers (who remain anonymous).

 

And no minaret, to avoid changing the profile of the waterfront in Darsena, the only building still to be finalized is the House of Islamic Culture. Or rather, the House of Peace, as it might be called.

 

Designs were directed by Alfredo Maiolese, a Genovese Muslim and president of the League of European Muslims who helped to create the possible home of the Islamic culture. These are the same designs that will be presented next week in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for the Islamic Development Bank. This is the bank that maintains an international Muslim presence abroad, likely funded by the governments of Kuwait and Qatar, and could make available the 12-15 million euro needed to buy the building and renovate it.

 

And Genoa? Available. “If indeed there is a need then doors are open to all” says Stefano Bernini, Deputy Mayor and Councilor for Urban Planning “If Maiolese and the European Muslim League will be able to find the resources, the municipality would support the project including town planning procedures and helping to convince the ‘neighbors’ who have doubts that this is a major accomplishment, which would be a great for the entire city.”

 

Bernini explains that the center would be a point of reference for the thousands of Muslims, but it could also be appealing as a cultural point of attraction for cruise passengers. And the claim that this may jeopardize security? “If there is a place that is controlled, it is the port area” replies Bernini “not to mention it is where the state police headquarter is.”

 

“In every home there are those that pray but this does not mean that every home is a mosque,” says Maiolese , which he discusses is the point of the “Moussala” on the ground floor, a place of prayer, it is more than a “majid,” meaning mosque. The space could accommodate between 5 and 600 people, and it would be the only space exclusively for Muslims. The rest of the building, however, will be welcome to everyone.

 

“The tea room will express welcome by offering Arab tea and cakes” explains Maiolese “but in the 240 square meter space we will also sell cakes and tea from the entire Arab world, which will help people better understand different food cultures” Upstairs will hold 750 square meters of Islamic books. Books will be in Italian, English, Arabic, and also French, Albanian, Urdu, Persian, Bengali, this will be a store for the visitors of the Museum of Islamic Culture,

 

Another 2,400 square meters will host works of art, manuscripts, and also cultural events. “We have already established contacts with universities in Medina, and also Qatar and others, in order to have works exhibited” says Maiolese. Finally, going even higher, there will be 1,230 square meters of diplomatic and commercial offices.”

First Skokie mosque proposed at old Holocaust Museum site

Vacant for the last five years, the former home of the Holocaust Museum on Main Street in Skokie (a suburb of Chicago) could become the new home to the first mosque in the village.

The Skokie Plan Commission on Aug. 1 unanimously recommended a special use permit to the Kaleemiah Foundation, which would use the building at 4255 Main St. as a mosque – a Muslim place of worship – and not as a community center.

 

The Skokie Village Board has final say at a future meeting.

According to the foundation’s mission statement, its primary goal is “to provide a nurturing place of worship.”

 

Under the Foundation’s proposal, the building will be open every day for prayer. Most sessions will last 10 or 15 minutes with one 45-minute session on Friday.

 

“This building has been vacant since 2008,” said David Hartmann. “A vacant building adds nothing to a neighborhood and, in fact, detracts from a neighborhood. The longer it is vacant, the longer there is wear and tear on the building.”

 

Temple Judea Mizpah Rabbi Amy Memis-Foler, a member of the Niles Township Clergy Association, and later Asaf Bar-Tura, representing the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, also spoke in support of the mosque and its positive impact on diversity in Skokie.

 

The Chicago area has 32 mosques including 11 in Chicago, two in Evanston, one in Morton Grove, one in Des Plaines and one in Northbrook.

 

“The mission of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center is to teach universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice, indifference and intolerance to help put an end to genocide around the world, ensuring that ‘never again’ becomes a reality for all people,” Hirschhaut said.

“As such, the museum is committed to operating in a manner that reflects that teaching and honors the right of all people to practice their faith.”

Trouble in paradise: The darker side of the Maldives

11 April 2013

 

Public lashings. Religious extremists seizing power. A gay blogger with his throat slashed. Few of the million annual visitors to the Maldives will recognize the hellish side of these heavenly islands. Following a miraculous recovery the blogger, now lives in exile in Sri Lanka. He misses home, but a country where it is illegal to be non-Muslim and violent forms of religious fundamentalism are on the rise is no place for a homosexual secularist, he says. Recent weeks have put a spotlight on Islamic fundamentalism in the Maldives after a 15-year-old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather was sentenced to 100 lashes for “fornication”. A petition by the global advocacy group Avaaz has been signed by more than two million people demanding a tourist boycott until the flogging sentence is annulled. President Mohammed Waheed told The Independent that he strongly opposes the court ruling. “This case should not have come to the courts at all. We see this girl as a victim,” he said, adding that he has set up a committee to “understand what went wrong”. The author points out that few of the millions of tourists to the Maldives each year see this side of the country. Most are whisked off to uninhabited resort islands before even setting foot on the crowded, alcohol-free capital of Malé. But the Islamic hardliners are reportedly responsible for further incidents. They are blamed for a raid on the national museum last year in which a priceless collection of ancient Buddhist artefacts was destroyed. They are also thought to be behind the killing in October of a member of parliament who had spoken out against extremism.

Louvre opens long-awaited Islamic Wing

News Agencies – September 20, 2012

 

France’s Louvre Museum is unveiling a new wing devoted to Islamic art, with the long-gestating project debuting during a period of increased tension with the Muslim community over a French publication’s caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Louvre’s new addition, which cost nearly 100 million euros (about $127 million Cdn) is its biggest project since the famed Parisian art museum unveiled its I.M. Pei-designed, now-iconic glass pyramid in 1988. The dragonfly-shaped new galleries will showcase a rotating display of artifacts from the Louvre’s collection of Islamic art, which includes pieces dating from as far back as the 7th century.

The museum first opened its Islamic art department in 2003, during the tenure of former French president Jacques Chirac, who urged a “dialogue of cultures” to break down walls between religions. France is home to more than four million Muslims, western Europe’s largest Muslim population.

However, an expansion was necessary because the Louvre did not have enough space to display what has grown to become a vast collection of Islamic art, including treasures donated by King Mohammed VI of Morocco and the foundation of Saudi Prince Waleed Bin Talal.

 

Pamela Geller, Anti-Muslim Activist, Blasts National Geographic Museum Exhibit For Romanticizing Islam

Anti-Muslim organizer Pamela Geller has joined forces with Justice Department attorney and author, J. Christian Adams, in a scathing critique of a National Geographic Museum exhibit on the contributions of Muslim scientists, the Washington City Paper reports.

The exhibit, called “1,001 Inventions: Discover the Golden Age of Muslim Civilization,” debuted at the Washington, D.C. museum in August and will stay through February. Featuring a video starring Academy-Award winning actor Ben Kingsley, as well as various interactive displays, “1,001 Inventions” aims to explore basic science principles in fields such as optics, time-keeping, hydraulics, navigation, architecture, and math, according to its website.

The historical revisionism of the exhibit, Geller states, is effective and dangerous, subversively brainwashing America’s school children, thousands of whom will doubtless flock to the award-winning collection during its stay in the capital.

Kathryn Keane, National Geographic’s vice president of exhibitions, seemed unconcerned by the criticisms when approached by the City Paper for comment.

Hillary Clinton opened the touring exhibit at its last home in Los Angeles, where it was seen by half a million visitors. It was also declared the “Best Touring Exhibit” by the Museum Heritage Awards in 2011.