28 February 2017

From Malacca to Manchester – Curating Islamic Collections Worldwide 23-24 Feb 2017

Along with Emma Martin and several other MEG members, I attended this conference at the Manchester Museum last week, organised by Jenny Norton-Wright, with help from curator Stephen Welsh.  With 13 speakers on the Thursday and 15 on the Friday each limited to 20 minutes it was an amazing feat of international coverage through a series of succinct and striking visual presentations.  Abstracts are available in the conference booklet we each received on our arrival.

Jenny Norton-Wright, conference organiser, with keynote speaker Dr Stefan Weber
Conference brochure

The keynote address by Dr Stefan Weber,  Director of the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin, highlighted the current political imperatives for understanding Islam better and a variety of ways this has been attempted in Berlin, including an interactive trail called ‘Objects in Transfer’ and the use of local Syrian and Iraqi guides speaking in Arabic. One session looked at the ‘Birmingham Qur’an' in depth from different viewpoints. The big new permanent galleries at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Louvre in Paris, were mentioned and critiqued by several speakers, and three speakers, including Venetia Porter, gave us a good idea of what the new Albukhary Foundation galleries of the Islamic World will look like at the British Museum, when they open in 2018.  The talks from curators from Be’erSheva in Israel, the Mardajni Foundation in Moscow, the King Adbulaziz Centerfor World Studies in Saudi Arabia and a new Bangsamora gallery at the National Museum of the Philippines, contributed to our greater awareness of the huge variety of Islamic displays and cultures worldwide and current new international developments. 

It was such a rewarding and heady experience that there was talk of a forthcoming publication, perhaps a selection of just some of the papers. The conference was part of the John Ellerman funded initiative between several Manchester museums to prepare for a new South Asia gallery, in an extension at the Manchester Museum, that will open in 2018. A separate community engagement workshop/seminar is planned for mid-summer 2017.

Antonia Lovelace,
MEG Chair and Curator of World Cultures at Leeds City Museum 

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