Early capitals of Islamic culture. The artistic heritage of Umayyad Damascus and Abbasid Baghdad (660-950)


In October, the Museum für Islamische Kunst (Museum for Islamic Art) of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) is presenting a ground-breaking exhibition on the early urban heritage of Islam in Sharjah, Capital of Islamic Culture 2014. The exhibition and its adjunct workshops are part of an ongoing cooperation between Berlin and Sharjah. (Opening 2014, October 14th, Museum for Islamic Civilization in Sharjah)

The exhibition

In October 2014, as part of Sharjah's celebrations as capital of Islamic Culture 2014, the Museum für Islamische Kunst visits Sharjah to present a ground-breaking exhibition on the very first Capitals of Islamic Culture in the history of the Islamic world, i.e. Damascus and Baghdad. For the very first time, rare archaeological material and selected star art objects from the first centuries of Islam will be presented. Highlighted by graphics and short educational films the objects were selected to chart the gradual and yet profound transition from the material world of pre-Islamic civilizations to that of a newly emerging Islamic culture. This important moment of world history is marked by the adoption and adaptation of ancient forms, techniques and aesthetic practices as well as unprecedented, bold innovations. The 100 objects from Berlin will provide visitors with an unprecedented and a deep insight into one of the most fascinating periods of human history when a new culture and artistic traditions were born from the heritage of late Antiquity. Finds relating to pre-Islamic, Umayyad and Abbasid capitals, palace cities and palace complexes include rare items from the former Sasanid capital and early Islamic provincial capital Ctesiphon in Iraq (5th-7th century), the Umayyad "Desert Castles" Khirbet al-Minya (705-15), Qusayr Amra (~730s), and the famous Mshatta castle (~744) and from the gigantic, temporary capital of the Abbasids - Samarra (9th century). In sum, these outstandingly important objects from the Berlin Museum für Islamische Kunst- the only one its kind in Europe - represent a star selection from its vast collections, which have gradually been built by way of archaeological work and gifts.

The two museums

The Museum für Islamische Kunst in the famous Pergamonmuseum on Museumsinel Berlin (Museum Island Berlin) is one of the world's leading museums on Islamic Art and Archaeology and the oldest of its kind outside the Muslim World. Its holdings of archaeological material and artefacts from the very first centuries of the Islamic Era are particularly significant due to extensive and pioneering research undertaken since the foundation of the Museum. With its almost a million visitors a year and its collections being discussed in over 500 schools all over Germany to date, the Museum has taken centre stage in raising public awareness worldwide about the outstanding civilizatory achievements of the Islamic world over centuries.

In 2014, the Emirate of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates celebrates its nomination as Capital of Islamic Culture, an accolade awarded due to Sharjah's contributions to art, culture and education and its status as one of the cultural hubs in the modern Arab-Islamic world. It is within this noteworthy context that the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation and the Museum für Islamische Kunst are presenting the exhibition, which is a direct result of an ongoing cooperation between the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Sharjah Museums Department and the Goethe Institute, first agreed upon in a comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2013.

The Berlin - Sharjah cooperation

On the 26th April 2013, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Goethe Institute and the Sharjah Museums Department agreed on a long-term museological cooperation, which was to include exhibition development, museum education and professional development initiatives. The agreement brings together two key players in the international museums world: While the Sharjah Museums Department with its 16 museums is the largest museum organisation in the United Arab Emirates, while the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin with its 16 museums are the largest museum entity in Germany.

"It is not culture that divides us, it is the personal stories that unite us", is how one Sharjah participant in the museological training course entitled "Learning with Objects and Visitors" in February 2014 not only summed up her experience but the spirit of the collaboration as a whole. Every aspect is seen as an opportunity for the two sides to learn from each other, professionally as well as from a personal and cultural perspective. In other words, the professional exchanges are not only aimed at improving intercultural conservation techniques, museological principles, curation or marketing strategies, but are seen as a mutually beneficial, personal exchange between museum staff from Sharjah and from Berlin.

An accompanying book was published by Hirmer: English-Arabic edition, 72 pages, 84 mostly colour illustrations, 23. 5 × 26. 5 cm, hardcover, ISBN: 978-3-7774-2244-2, 22,00 £ (More information)

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