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Dallas Museum of Art Joins New Worldwide Push for Islamic Art

by Kyle Chayka on November 1, 2012

Sebiha Al Khemir (Image courtesy byu.edu)

The Dallas Museum of Art announced today that it has named Sabiha Al Khemir as its first Senior Advisor of Islamic Art. Al Khemir was previously the founding director of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar (the peninsular institution designed by I.M. Pei) and is an expert in the history of Islamic art. The move comes at a time when many museums the world over are making a push to support Islamic art’s place in the historical canon.

Throughout her three-year term, Dr. Al Khemir will work to “enhance the presence of Islamic art in the museum’s exhibitions and collections and promote the exchange of Islamic works with partner institutions across the globe,” reads a museum statement. Initially, Al Khemir will travel and make connections with other international collections of Islamic art and focus on enhancing the Dallas Museum of Art’s holdings in the art of Indonesia and the Philippines.

“By connecting with people and cultures in new ways, we are able to experience different perspectives, broaden horizons, and better mutual understanding,” Al Khemir said. Her appointment is a significant gesture of support for non-western art as a whole and an accomplishment for the museum, which is currently undergoing a re-branding campaign and site improvements.

The future Aga Khan Museum in Toronto (Image courtesy cbc.ca)

Islamic art seems to be going through an international moment in the spotlight as major museums reinvigorate their collection holdings and exhibition programming of art from the Middle East. The historically conservative Louvre museum opened an entire new wing devoted to Islamic art in September of this year, though its non-traditional, non-chronological installation has been critiqued as a “visual blur and intellectual confusion” by the New York Times and a “failure to acknowlege the modern Muslim condition” by the New Statesman. The Metropolitan Museum likewise renovated its Islamic galleries in 2011 with a presentation that has been better received.

Perhaps the biggest gesture of support for the western museum-ification of Islamic art is the Aga Khan Museum opening in Toronto in 2013. Led by His Highness the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims since 1957, the museum will “will be dedicated to the acquisition, preservation and display of artefacts relating to the intellectual, cultural, artistic and religious heritage of Islamic communities,” according to its website, as well as house the collections of the Aga Khan and his family. The 100,000-square-foot museum has been design by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki and will include a multimedia center, reference library, and auditorium.

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