Hajj at The British Museum
I’m always keenly aware of major exhibitions in New York museums that I won’t get to see. But for the most part I’m happily unaware of what I’m missing in London. Today is an exception. Malise Ruthven wrote a piece at the New York Review of Books blog on The British Museum‘s exhibition Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Mecca. Ruthven explains:
Over the next two months the great domed interior of what used to be the British Museum’s reading room, where Marx researched Das Kapital and Bram Stoker (creator of Dracula) was a reader, is host to Hajj, a remarkable exhibition that celebrates the most sacred event in the Islamic calendar, the pilgrimage to Mecca. The exhibition seems more than a cultural event—a milestone, perhaps, in the public recognition and acceptance of Islam at the heart of British life. Conceived by British Museum director Neil MacGregor and the museum’s Islamic art curator Venetia Porter with assistance from the Saudi Arabian government, it is an unusual collaboration between a museum dedicated to secular learning and the current rulers of Islam’s holiest sites, who have lent many important works.
The British Museum press release provides the following description:
Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam will be the first major exhibition dedicated to the Hajj; the pilgrimage to Mecca (Makkah) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which is central to the Muslim faith. The exhibition will examine the significance of the Hajj as one of the Five Pillars of Islam, exploring its importance for Muslims and looking at how this spiritual journey has evolved throughout history. It will bring together a wealth of objects from a number of different collections including important historic pieces as well as new contemporary art works which reveal the enduring impact of Hajj across the globe and across the centuries. The exhibition which has been organised in partnership with the King Abdulaziz Public Library Riyadh will examine three key strands: the pilgrim’s journey with an emphasis on the major routes used across time (from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East); the Hajj today, its associated rituals and what the experience means to the pilgrim; and Mecca, the destination of Hajj, its origins and importance.
A wide variety of objects will be lent to the exhibition. Loans include significant material from Saudi Arabia including a seetanah which covers the door of the Ka’ba as well as other historic and contemporary artefacts from key museums in the Kingdom. Other objects have come from major public and private collections in the UK and around the world, among them the British Library and the Khalili Family Trust. Together these objects will evoke and document the long and perilous journey associated with the pilgrimage, gifts offered to the sanctuary as acts of devotion and the souvenirs that are brought back from Hajj. They include archaeological material, manuscripts, textiles, historic photographs and contemporary art. The Hajj has a deep emotional and spiritual significance for Muslims, and continues to inspire a wide range of personal, literary and artistic responses, many of which will be explored throughout the exhibition.
We haven’t been to London since July 2004, following ten days in Glasgow, where we visited friends and commuted down to Troon to attend The Open Championship on five of the days. During our day and a half in London, we made The British Museum our first stop, once we checked into our hotel and had lunch. The next day, my sister, her husband, and her son took the train over from Paris to meet us. We headed to the Tate Modern, had lunch, and by late afternoon found ourselves again at The British Museum. Somewhere in there, we squeezed in a visit to The National Gallery too, plus nightly dinners at Indian restaurants. Pretty full visit. Unfortunately, I don’t see us getting back by April 15, when the Hajj show ends.