New “Historical” Object at the Museum für Islamische Kunst: Issam Kourbaj’s “Dark Water, Burning World“

Museum für Islamische Kunst

Issam Kourbaj’s work Dark Water, Burning World at the Museum für Islamische Kunst (Museum for Islamic Art) arrived just in time for the turn of the New Year. The recent addition to the collection at the Pergamonmuseum on Museumsinsel Berlin (Museum Island) is made up of twelve small boats, which impressively capture the drama of the “boat people” that repeats itself day after day. Issam Kourbaj’s work was recently chosen as the “101st object” for the BBC podcast “A History of the World in 100 Objects”.

Stefan Weber, director of the Museum für Islamische Kunst, is clearly impressed: “Issam’s work captivates viewers with the immediacy and impact of its message. The little boats seem like toys and yet despite their elemental simplicity they express one of the great dramas of our time! We purchased the work for a key future exhibition space on the subject of ‘Change through Exchange Along the Mediterranean Sea, 10th‒13th century’ – the mare nostrum, which repeatedly turns into a mare monstrum (a watery monstrosity) both in the past and present. The artist will feature in a presentation included in that exhibition.”

Funding from Alwaleed Philanthropies made the acquisition possible.

The 101st Object in a History of the World in 100 Objects

For the BBC podcast “A History of the World in 100 Objects”, Neil MacGregor chose Issam’s boats as the 101st object almost simultaneously with their display at the British Museum. In his opinion this work epitomises one of the most important questions of the past decade ‒ and does so like no other object.

About Issam Kourbaj

Issam was born in Syria and trained at the Institute of Fine Arts in Damascus, the Repin Institute of Fine Arts & Architecture in St Petersburg and at the Wimbledon School of Art. He has lived in Cambridge, UK, since 1990, where he has been artist-in-residence, bye-fellow, and lector in art, at Christ’s College.

Most recently his works have been featured at several museums around the world, including Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, Museum of Classical Archaeology, and Kettle’s Yard; Philadelphia’s Penn Museum; London’s British Museum and V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum); and New York’s Brooklyn Museum.