RIYADH: A British Museum curator speaking at the Global Competitiveness Forum said a major exhibit on the Haj pilgrimage has the potential to create better understanding between the people of the West and the Middle East.
Dr. Venetia Porter, curator of Islamic and Contemporary Middle Eastern Art at the British Museum, spoke on Sunday at the forum and encouraged participants to think of both art and artifacts as means to create bridges between cultures.
“Next year we will put on a major exhibition of Reem Al-Faisal's photographs on Haj — an exhibition that we hope will explain this remarkable event,” she told forum delegates. “Three million people perform Haj every year every year, but only if you are a Muslim can you know what this sacred ritual means.”
Porter said the British Museum would collaborate with other institutions to mount the exhibit. She said Saudi artists would be playing a role.
“We will show beautiful objects from major collections and works by Saudi and other artists,” Porter said. “In recent days our first Muslim Cabinet minister, Baroness Warsi, has talked about endemic Islamophobia — what better way of showing the essence of Islam than through Reem Al-Faisal’s exhibition in the neutral space of the British Museum?”
Although the British Museum attracts about six million visitors annually, Porter said the strength of the institution was its global connections.
“The museum’s links are spread throughout the world through a network of relationships put together over many years on an academic level between curators and through our curatorial training program where we train curators from all over the world.”
She said that contemporary artists were a key component of the museum’s Middle Eastern and North African collection, and she noted the importance of several young Saudi artists.
“One of the fascinating aspects of my work has been the development of our collection in this area and we now have about 200 artists from across the Middle East and North Africa represented in our collection,” Porter said. “I want to highlight here four Saudi artists — Ahmed Mater, Faisal Samra, Abd Al-Nasser Gharem and Manal Dowayan — represented in our collection. Their work until a few years ago was invisible in the West. As a result of exposure and energy they are not only very well known now, but they are acting as trailblazers.”
She said the British Museum was the first non-Middle Eastern institution to acquire Ahmed Mater’s work. “I think its fair to say we provided him with a degree of support at a crucial time particularly when we included his work in our exhibition ‘Word Into Art,’” she said.
Porter lauded the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) for its support of the arts in the Kingdom.
“The highly innovative ‘Create and Inspire’ program initiated by SAGIA working with Offscreen was an art competition that drew hundreds of competitors from across the Kingdom,” she said. “I was extremely honored to participate. It has highlighted the depth of creativity that there is here in the Kingdom, and the winners will be announced soon. Suffice to say here that there are some real surprises in terms of talent.”