V&A working in and with the Middle East
The V&A has links to a wide range of countries in the Middle East through its collections, through its programme of touring exhibitions, and through partnerships. The Jameel Prize has allowed the Museum to build new relationships throughout the region and the 2009 exhibition tour included Syria, Lebanon, the UAE, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
Collections and Galleries
The V&A has one of the world’s greatest collections of Islamic art, formed over a period of 150 years. Acquisitions began when the Museum was opened to the public in 1852, because its founders believed that the principles they detected in Islamic art could provide an excellent model for reforming British design. The collection, which is now valued for what it tells us about a great civilisation, was given new prominence by the establishment of a dedicated Middle Eastern section in 2002 and the opening of the splendid Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art in 2006.
The V&A holds over 19,000 items from the Middle East, the earliest dating from the early Islamic period (8th century AD). The area covered stretches from Spain and Morocco in the west to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan in the east, taking in important centres of production in the Arab lands, Turkey and Iran. The Museum has the world’s leading collections in the fields of Islamic ceramics and textiles, as well as significant holdings of metalwork, including arms and armour and jewellery; glass; woodwork; paintings in oils and the arts of the book; architectural drawings; and carvings in ivory and stone. Around 400 items are on display in the Jameel Gallery, including iconic pieces such as the Ardabil carpet and the finest Fatimid rock crystal carving in existence. Thousands more items can be seen in the Museum’s galleries devoted to material and techniques, such as the new Ceramics Galleries, opened in 2010–11.
The Museum also holds the world’s largest collection of European images of the Middle East, which is housed in the Word and Image Department. The most recent publication of these is Charles Newton’s Images of the Ottoman Empire, which has both English and Arabic editions. The Word and Image and Asian Departments also have growing collections of contemporary work by artists from the Middle East. A related project is the Jameel Prize, a biennial award to an artist or designer for work inspired by Islamic tradition. This international prize revives the link between Islamic art and contemporary practice fostered by the founders of the V&A.
V&A Exhibitions in the Middle East
The V&A began touring exhibitions to the Middle East in 2008–9, when Masterpieces of World Ceramics – an exhibition of 120 outstanding works in this medium – was seen in Damascus (Khan As’ad Basha) and Istanbul (Pera Museum). This was the first ever international travelling exhibition to be seen at a venue in Syria. The Jameel Prize 2009, also made a very successful tour in the Middle East in 2010–11, with venues in Riyadh, Damascus, Beiteddine (Lebanon), Sharjah, Istanbul and Casablanca. Other relevant activities are:
Decode: Digital Design Sensation was shown at the Design Museum Holon, Israel from November 2011 to March 2012. The exhibition was a great success for the venue, attracting 31,000 visitors. The V&A plans to work with the venue again on future touring exhibitions.
Street Art: Contemporary Prints from the V&A was shown at the Dar Al Fagi Hassan Art Gallery in Tripoli in March – April 2012 before travelling to Benghazi. This is the first exhibition from the V&A to travel to Libya and is a collaboration between the V&A and the British Council.
Middle East Exhibitions at the V&A
Jameel Prize 2011. Works by the ten artists short-listed for the second Jameel Prize were shown at the V&A from July to September 2011 before touring Europe (Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris and Casa Arabe, Madrid) and North America (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University and Museum of Art and Design, New York).
The exhibition of contemporary Middle Eastern photography, Light from the Middle East: New Photography, will open at the V&A in November 2012. The show is based on collections in this field formed by the V&A and the British Museum with generous support from The Art Fund. An international tour is planned.
The V&A is working with the Qatar Museums Authority on a revised version of the Pearls exhibition that appeared at the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, in 2010. It will be shown at the V&A in the autumn of 2013.
An exhibition on contemporary design in the Arab world is being developed for display in the Porter Gallery at the V&A in 2015. It will be available for touring.
A major exhibition on the arts of Egypt and the Levant under the Mamluk sultans (1250-1517) is also being developed for our future exhibition programme. It will also be available for touring.
V&A Touring Exhibitions
Owen Jones: Islamic Design, Discovery and Vision. Owen Jones (1809–1874) was the visionary architect and designer who saw Islamic art as a key model for contemporary design and convinced the founders of the V&A to collect in this field. This travelling exhibition of Jones’s explorations of Islamic design has been shown at the Museum of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain and the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, UAE in 2012.
The V&A and the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in Doha have exchanged loans on a regular basis since the Qatari museum opened in 2008. The V&A loaned the MIA an outstanding example of Fatimid lustre ware for its opening exhibition, Beyond Boundaries, and 14 objects from the V&A will be seen there in the Gifts of the Sultan exhibition in 2012. The MIA has lent two important items, formerly belonging to Robert Clive, on long term loan to the V&A. One of these, a ruby encrusted jade flask, has been included in the Maharaja exhibition, which was seen at the V&A in 2009-10 and which is touring North America until 2012.
A World Apart Next Door (June–November 2012) at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem includes a V&A loan (Golden Torah Crown) from the Gilbert Collection.
Learning & Audience Engagement
The V&A runs many courses on Islamic art and design, including a year-long, one-day-a-week course on the Arts of Asia, 1500–1900. The first term covers the art and architecture of the Middle East.
The Norouz Friday Late event which took place in March 2012, was supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation, and included a contemporary artist funded by a residency with Delfina and Magic of Persia, and a sound artist residency sponsored by Exhibition Road Cultural Group.
In July 2011, the V&A hosted the launch of Shubbak: a Window on Contemporary Arab Culture, London’s first-ever celebration of contemporary culture from across the Arab world, presented by the Mayor of London. The Museum also participated in the festival, providing family events associated with the Jameel Prize 2011.
The V&A has been publishing work on Middle Eastern subjects since 1876. Since 2004, V&A publications have included the following:
- Tim Stanley, Palace and Mosque, (2004 and 2006 editions)
- Rosemary Crill and Tim Stanley, eds, The Making of the Jameel Gallery, (2006)
- Charles Newton, Images of the Ottoman Empire, (2007)
- Mariam Rosser-Owen, Islamic Arts from Spain, (2010)
- Patricia Baker and Jennifer Wearden, Iranian Textiles, (2010)