Two decorated cushions on display.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Sheikh Abdullah bin Salem bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Deputy Ruler of Sharjah, has inaugurated the “Wonder and Inspiration: Venice and the Arts of Islam” exhibition at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization (Feb. 16 – July 2).
Organised by Sharjah Museums Authority (SMA), it features never-seen-before objects and speaks of the distinctive Islamic influence on Venice’s architecture, art, culture, science, trade and literature. The exhibition was inaugurated in the presence of Manal Ataya, Director General of SMA, Giuseppe Venuciaro, Consul General of Italy in Dubai, and Professor Ida Zilio Grandi, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute.
The five-month long show will take visitors on a journey that displays how the rich exchange between the Islamic world and Venice forged a strong bond in the period between the Middle Ages and the Modern Age, that resulted in artistic excellence on both sides and inspired the city’s artists. It is a first collaboration between SMA and Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia. The Fondazione manages and develops the cultural and artistic heritage of Venice and its islands. It showcases never-seen-before collection of artworks and documents preserved by the Fondazione. “Inspired by the vision of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, the exhibition is an endeavour to show how historically, cross-cultural interactions effectively connected people and continue to do so,” Ataya said.
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“It speaks of the unique relationship between Venice and the Islamic world at the time and reflects the far-ranging influence of the Islamic civilization across the globe.” She pointed out that Venice’s status as one of the largest cities in Europe between 8th and 13th centuries and simultaneously one of the most important trading hubs at the time, allowed for the creation of a unique relationship of intellectual creativity with the Islamic world.
The exhibition comprises three chapters: Encounters, Dialogues and Inspirations, each of which includes important documents and impressive collections of both Islamic and Venetian art.
Encounters focuses on the first meetings giving rise to reciprocal exchanges that could have been in the form of gifts or barter. Some of the objects that have been preserved were diplomatic gifts such as fabric, carpets and weapons given to the Doge by the ruler of Persia, Shah Abbas the Great, in 1603 CE. Other artifacts showcased in this section include weaves in rich silk and velvet from the Safavid Dynasty, oil paintings, maps, drawings and nautical charts. Dialogues delves into how shared economic, commercial and cultural interests governed the exchanges between the Muslims from the East and the Venetians.
For instance, in 1000 CE, the Byzantine and Arab gold coins were sought after in Venice; in the later centuries, Venetian gold ducat became the anchor currency across the East. Rare minted gold coins, abacus books, tariff manuals, medals, the Qibla compass and copies of the Quran that the Venetians read to have a better understanding of the people they traded with and also learn Arabic to communicate with them, are being displayed. Inspirations showcases artefacts made from leather, metal, lacquer, ceramic, enamel or glass. They were birthed by Islamic mastery and created by Venetian artists either in their original forms, or were reworked imaginatively.
Ataya has also been awarded the Order of Merit, conferred by the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in recognition of her efforts and contribution to enhancing cultural exchange between Germany and the UAE. German Ambassador Ernest Peter Fischer presented the award during a ceremony held at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization. Ataya received the order in recognition of a decade-long journey of her efforts and commitment to strengthen the cultural and intellectual links between the UAE and Germany, since the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between SMA and Berlin State Museums in 2013.
The collaboration resulted in the hosting of major exhibitions such as “The Radiance of Islam, Early Capitals of Islamic Culture” and “Crossroads: Cultural Exchange between the Islamic Civilization, Europe and Beyond”. Another major collaboration that ran parallel to this has been the SAWA Museums Studies programme, an initiative that was launched in 2015 by SMA in cooperation with Berlin State Museums, Goethe-Institut Gulf Region and the University of Applied Sciences (HTW Berlin), for students of museums studies and young museum professionals. SMA has won the “Best Cultural Collaboration” in the International Leading Cultural Destinations Award 2020 and the Humanities Award for ‘Promoting the Role and Value of the Humanities in Research, Education and Society’ from the Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities (AGYA) in Berlin, for the SAWA Museums Studies programme.
“I wish to thank His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in both the UAE and Germany and HE Ambassador Fischer, for all their continued support,” said Ataya. The German Ambassador said that “Manal has built lasting cultural bridges between the UAE and Germany. She has been leading a deep and meaningful cooperation between our museums and has touched the hearts and widened the knowledge of many young museum professionals in both countries.” Order of Merit is the only federal decoration of Germany and is awarded for special achievements in political, economic, cultural, intellectual or honorary fields.
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