the Victoria and Albert’s New Gallery Shows the Islamic World as Oasis, Not Caldron

Alan Riding in the New York Times:

09vict_ca0It was not a happy coincidence that the Victoria and Albert Museum’s splendidly refurbished Islamic art gallery opened here in late July, just as the Middle East was once again going up in flames.

After all, one of the gallery’s aims is to present a largely Western audience with a different image of the Islamic world, one that dwells on its artistic sophistication rather than on the radical stereotypes often reinforced by newspaper headlines.

Certainly it was with this in mind that Mohammed Jameel, a wealthy Saudi, paid the $9.8 million bill for reinstalling the Victoria and Albert’s Islamic collection for the first time in half a century. The display area on the museum’s main floor has now been renamed the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art in memory of Mr. Jameel’s parents.

Yet political turmoil in Israel, Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq and beyond only underlines the challenge of using the past to illuminate the present. Put differently, can 400 carefully chosen objects, some dating to the 11th century, provide us with any fresh insight into what is happening in the Middle East today?

More here.