For the first time in a Berlin institution, the cultural history of Iran – from the early civilisations through to the modern era – is the focus of a major art-historical survey exhibition. From 30 October 2021, some 360 objects from the Sarikhani Collection in London will be on display, alongside exhibits from the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. The works on exhibit bear witness to the central role that Iran played as a site of innovation, as a melting pot and cultural powerhouse connecting Africa, Asia and Europe. Additionally, it presents a rich kaleidoscope of the cultural creativity of urban societies.
A fascinating cultural landscape developed over thousands of years in Iran. Situated between deserts, mountain ranges and bodies of water, the region was home to great historical civilisations, yet its artistic achievements are unknown to many outside of scholarly circles. This despite the fact that Iran is not only located in one of the oldest and most important cultural regions in the world, but has also been home to key cultural, artistic and scientific trends and discoveries that have had wide-ranging impacts, reaching all the way to Europe. The exhibition features exquisite works of art from the Sarikhani Collection, complemented by unique pieces from the collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. It takes visitors on a journey through time and the country’s rich cultural heritage. Some of the highlights along the way include the empires of the Achaemenids and Sasanids, the formation of a Persian Islamic culture, the extraordinary artistic achievements of the 9th to 13th centuries, and the Golden Age of the Safavids.
The exhibition will explore the central role that Iran has played in the context of cross-regional political, economic and cultural relations. As a “cultural highway” connecting Asia, Africa and Europe, Persia is a place of extraordinary ethnic and linguistic diversity. Time and again, migration and the exchange of cultural knowledge and technologies along the Silk Road(s) have formed the foundations for innovation and creativity. From the early civilisations, Elam and the ancient Kings of Persis with their seat in Persepolis to the incursions of Genghis Khan and the important imperial city of Isfahan right through to the beginning of the modern era, the evolution of Iran is arranged into a chronological tour, illustrated with traditions, transformations and complex relationships.
The exhibition – a must-see for lovers of painting and ceramics in particular – shows how, over the course of several thousand years, a specifically Iranian cultural identity emerged from Farsi as a language of instruction and cultural production, an identity that was continuously transforming, particularly among the cross-regional networks of traders and scholars and at moments of radical change, such as war or forced migration. Time and again, invaders and invaded alike adopted the language and culture, renewing and re-forming it as they went.
Stefan Weber, Director of the Museum für Islamische Kunst:
When you think about the enormous cultural-historical significance of Iran, this exhibition is really long overdue. As in many countries in the region, our perceptions today are determined by political issues and contemporary concerns. For Iran, this has been particularly true since the Islamic revolution of 1979, which is a formative event in our collective memory. This exhibition seeks to independently showcase – though without losing sight of the present – a long-standing national culture that is of the utmost importance for us too. Indeed, it might be one of the most important cultures anywhere in the world.
"Iran: Five Millennia of Art and Culture" is curated by Ute Franke together with Stefan Weber from the Museum für Islamische Kunst and Ina Sandmann from the Sarikhani Collection. Alongside this exhibition, the James-Simon-Galerie is presenting a special feature concentrating on illuminated manuscripts, titled The Garden as a Place of Refuge: Persian Illuminated Manuscripts Meet Berlin-Style Allotment Idyll in the book art cabinet of the Pergamonmuseum.
Guides from the Multaka project with family connections to Iran and Afghanistan are offering tours of the exhibition that can be booked in German, English, Arabic and Farsi. There are also tours and online workshops tailored to school students. During the entire exhibition run and in collaboration with various organisations and the Friends of the Museum für Islamische Kunst, an extensive programme of events is being held, with talks, readings and film screenings. The Pierre-Boulez-Saal/Barenboim-Said Akademie has come on board as an exhibition partner, and is organising a special programme of concerts to accompany the exhibition.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue published by Hirner Verlag: hardcover, ca. 400 pages, ca. 540 colour illustrations, ISBN 3777438049, retail price: 49.90 Euro.
A special exhibition of the Museum für Islamische Kunst – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in cooperation with the Sarikhani Collection
Address / Getting there
Entry to the Neues Museum and the Pergamonmuseum
Floor plan for individual visitors to the Neues Museum and the Pergamonmuseum (PDF)
As of 13 July 2019 and until the completion of phase A of the restoration and refurbishment of the Pergamonmuseum, the James-Simon-Galerie constitutes the sole entry to the Pergamonmuseum (via the stairs and the upper foyer). All groups visiting the Neues Museum are to enter the James-Simon-Galerie via the courtyard and the lower foyer.
Information for group visits to the Neues Museum and the Pergamonmuseum (PDF)
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