Ali Kaaf
I Am a Stranger: Twofold a Stranger

01.12.2021 to 20.02.2022

The Museum für Islamische Kunst’s Mshatta Façade will soon be dismantled, restored and relocated from the south wing of the Pergamonmuseum to the north wing. To mark the occasion, Ali Kaaf has engaged in a contemporary dialogue with the Facade, with his piece entitled, I Am a Stranger: Twofold a Stranger.  

The Migrations of the Mshatta Façade

Mshatta is saying goodbye – for the time being, anyway. The Façade – originally a part of the early Islamic caliph’s Mshatta Palace in Jordan – is the largest and perhaps most important work of Islamic art in a museum anywhere in the world. In early 2022, the Façade will be removed from its position as the centrepiece of the Museum für Islamische Kunst’s collection, with the work being carried out at a fascinating display site that will be open to the public. It will be presented again in the refurbished north wing of the Pergamonmuseum from 2026 onwards. This means the Façade will be migrating once again.

Presented as a diplomatic gift from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the Mshatta Façade came to Berlin in 1903. A year later it was placed on display in a confined space in what was then the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (today the Bode-Museum). How exactly the Façade should be classified, however, was the subject of intense debate: as an Islamic façade, did it belong in the “foreign” Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, or with objects of perceived “European” antiquity? The idea that antiquity also formed the basis of Islamic art and culture was disputed at the time. Ultimately, it was correctly placed in the Pergamonmuseum.

Ali Kaaf and the Relationship to Space

For the German-Syrian artist Ali Kaaf, the eventful history of the Mshatta Façade serves as a metaphor for reflecting on migration, integration, home and identity. In his installation I Am a Stranger: Twofold a Stranger, Kaaf encourages the viewer not only to look at the monumental Mshatta facade, but to also look through it, exploring the relationships between the Façade and the surrounding space.

Kaaf creates a charged space that makes room for ambiguities in the in-between – be that between the Façade and his intervention, history and the present, the known and the foreign, or the visible and the invisible. In this way, he makes the structure – erected around 740 AD –tangibly accessible, providing an experience for the viewer that is both physical and emotional. This relationship to space is fundamental to Kaaf’s work. In all of his artworks, various layers overlap, exposing the new and revealing different ways of thinking.

Kaaf’s Installation in Dialogue with the Mshatta Façade

The Mshatta Façade symbolises the transition from Byzantine and ancient Persian art to Islamic art. With its hybridity and the history of its migration to Berlin, it embodies themes that are of great relevance today: cultural modes of thought, processes of migration, and the provenance of cultural artefacts. And because contemporary issues are explored by contemporary artists, from December 2022, the installation I Am a Stranger: Twofold a Stranger by Ali Kaaf will enter into dialogue with the Mshatta Façade. On both a personal and an artistic level, Kaaf contends with questions of dual and plural belonging and of categorisations and identities. Topics that are also central to the art-historical classification of the Façade. 

An extensive catalogue on Ali Kaaf will be published by Hatje Cantz Verlag in January 2022.

A special exhibition by the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

James-Simon-Galerie, Bodestraße
10178 Berlin

partially wheelchair accessible
Please note: Pergamonmuseum is exclusively entered through James-Simon-Galerie!
Site plan: Entrance to the Pergamonmuseum and Neues Museum (PDF)

All groups meet at the information desk at the upper foyer in James-Simon-Galerie, entering by using the big stairway.
Advice for group visits to the Pergamonmuseum an the Neues Museum (PDF)

Due to a technical issue, the lift is out of service until further notice, meaning the Museum für Islamische Kunst is not currently wheelchair accessible. The major architectural exhibits – such as the Processional Way, featuring the Ishtar Gate and the Market Gate of Miletus – are still accessible to people with mobility issues. 


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