Celebrating the Islamic World at the British Museum – Curator’s Route
This month, the British Museum unveils its new Albukhary Foundation Gallery of Islamic Arts and to mark this occasion, I was invited to curate the launch weekend running from 19-21 October 2018.
Curating this weekend has been about much more than ‘just’ the weekend. It extends back into history and forward into the future. It asks questions around how artists from the Muslim world have been, and continue to be, represented. It asks whose voices are heard and whose voices are silenced. It is also about ‘this moment’, when conversations around representation and ownership have been loud and bold across the arts and cultural industries. It seeks to disrupt and introduce new characters to the narrative.
I hope visitors will find that there is something for everyone across the weekend. I also ask visitors to look out for absence – who is not being represented? I am still asking this question of ‘why?’
Friday, 19 October
Museum events can be overwhelming, so here is a suggested route for you to see and do as much as possible on the night. You might even be lucky enough to be serenaded by pop-up poet Rakaya Esime Fetuga. Don’t be in too much of a rush if this happens – it’ll be a rare treat if you’re lucky enough to stumble across her!
Warm up: Start by accepting that you won’t manage to catch everything.
18:00 – Arrive at the Great Court and Make Your Mark by designing a feminist sticker inspired by female Muslim movers and shakers across history with OOMK. Alternatively, you can try your hand at geometry in Yasmine Maksousa’s paper-tile making workshop and add it to a giant audience-produced installation. Either way, you’ll be in the Great Court in time to spend a moment of contemplation inspired by the mesmerising whirling of Semazens of The Study Society on one side, and colossal calligraphy by master calligrapher Lassad Metoui on the other.
18:40 – Leave your tile behind, or wear your feminist sticker loud and proud, and stroll over to the Nereid Gallery (17) to enjoy theatre of wisdom and wit from Khayaal Theatre. On the way, give yourself some time to stop and enjoy the calligraphy demonstration by Samiur Rahman (and maybe even have a go at writing your name).
19.10 – Drop by to Gallery 41 to listen to the hauntingly sweet renditions of sean nos (Irish folk music) by Sheikh Muhammad Al Hussaini. Be sure to catch at least one of his songs!
Here you have two options:
19.20 – Nip back down to Gallery 17 and listen to stories from the Shahnameh by master storyteller Xanthe Gresham, accompanied by Kurdish-Iranian musician Arash Moradi.
19.30 – Give yourself time to walk over to the India Gallery at the back of the Museum (Gallery 33) where you will be treated to the unique sound of Khiyo’s Bangla rock, fronted by Sohini Alam, Akram Khan’s go-to vocalist.
20.00 – Head back to the BP Lecture Theatre at the ‘front’ of the Museum (located downstairs in the Clore Centre beneath the Great Court) to listen to the panel discussion curated by Female Muslim Creatives, bringing together three generations of female poets.
20.30 – Even if the panel conversation is still going (it shouldn’t, but we know what panels are like when they get going), it’s worth tearing yourself away to listen to our Poet Chronicler for the night, Asma Elbadawi, perform a freshly-written bespoke piece inspired by the events of the evening upstairs in the Great Court.
20.40 – Stay where you are and get ready to kick off your shoes and dance to the Middle Eastern beats of the London Syrian Ensemble – some of Syria’s finest musicians currently residing in the UK – as they end the night with a bang.
N.B. Don’t forget to taste the food – it’s not free but it’s going to be GOOD!
A huge thank you to Freddie Matthews from the British Museum, Najwa Umran from Female Muslim Creatives, Fatima Mullick from Amal (Saïd Foundation), Luqman Ali from Khayaal Theatre, Eckhard Thiemann from Shubbak, Raheel Mohammed and Latifa Akay from Maslaha, Anne Thwaite from the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival, and last but certainly not least, to Shaheen Kasmani and Hatiq Mohammed (aka Teakster).