Home Artifacts West African artifacts in a new exhibition in Beersheba, Israel

West African artifacts in a new exhibition in Beersheba, Israel

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The recently renovated mosque in the old town of Beersheba now houses the Museum of Islamic Cultures and the Near East, where the cultural links between West Africa and the Islamic world are presented.

The fountains on loan from Arman Darian to the museum flow gently as the scent of jasmine invites the visitor to enjoy the renovated mosque courtyard and relax before entering “Gold Road Encounters”, a unique exhibition on the points of contact between Islamic and West African cultures. those.

“The first thing we present to the public is the mosque,” ​​museum curator Dr Sharon Laor-Sirak told me. The original 1906 building has been lovingly restored and the trees are now watered in the courtyard to give visitors a chance to experience it as a refuge from city life and the heat.

“My concept is that Islamic art did not disappear at the end of the British Mandate,” explained Laor-Sirak, “this is why these two modern fountains were selected to represent contemporary art which uses the principles of Islamic art “.

The late scholar Oleg Grabar has championed the idea that you don’t have to be a Muslim to create Islamic art. Interestingly, a Bedouin oral history collected by Sasson Bar-Zvi indicates that the original mosque was built by a Christian builder.

The pleasant courtyard contains archaeological finds from all over the country that span the centuries in which this land was part of the larger Islamic world. They include a tombstone written in Kufic script, carved marble, and a mosaic floor. Perhaps unknown to the average visitor, this entire space is the result of a 2011 High Court ruling that rejected Bedouin demands to restore the building to its original religious function. While the city of Beersheba requested that the site be used for an archaeological museum, the court ruled that it would be used to honor Islamic and Middle Eastern cultures.

In “Gold Road Encounters,” an early 12th-century Fatimid gold treasure found in Caesarea is used to tell the complex relationship between Islamic kings and traders and African rulers and artisans.

The exhibition space is wonderfully designed. On the right is the gold treasure found here and the various items used in the gold trade. They include a kuduo, a brass vessel used to store the kra, or life force, of their owners in the Akan realms that once contained gold dust. They also include a variety of well-made figurines used to weigh gold.

On the left, we see crocodile masks used by the Grebo people in what is now Liberia during their secret initiations. Various masks, such as a wisdom mask used by the We people and a protective mask, are included in the exhibit thanks to the generosity of Dina and Michael Weiss. Unlike other collections, which are marred by their complex relationship to colonial powers and violence, this collection is presented with the approval of the cultures of origin on the condition that they represent their respective cultures in a dignified manner.

The collection includes Islamic artefacts, such as a 19th-century Quran from Timbuktu, and non-Islamic artefacts, such as a 1951 attic door made by the Dogon people of Mali. Some objects show how the interacting cultures formed something new, such as a hunting shirt with Quranic verses to protect the hunter or a box mask (Sibondel) made by the Baga people which includes al-Buraq (the animal winged that the Prophet of Islam used to reach Jerusalem).

Also note the different masks of African secret societies (for men and women) used to educate young people. The mouth is usually represented by a small, narrow line, indicating that no secrets are revealed to strangers.

There is a tendency in the West to see Africa as a footnote to a history centered on Europe. If Pablo Picasso was inspired by Grebo masks, for example, they become invaluable for understanding cubism. If the blues inspires people like Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, West African griot musicians are becoming important. One of the best things about this exhibit, I think, is that it offers the casual visitor a glimpse into the splendor (and yes, otherness) of civilizations.

“Gold Road Encounters” will be on display until July 16, 2022 at the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures at 60 Ha’atzmaut St in Beer Sheva.

Phone (08) 622-6929, Site: www.ine-museum.org.il Opening hours: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday from noon to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. No entry price indicated.


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