Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Museum of Islamic Art

Al Masry Al Youm

In general, a museum collection is arranged in one of two ways. Either the pieces unfold chronologically, according to the year they were made, or with narrative, attempting to tell a story or teach a lesson. These days in Egypt, chronology is out and narrative is in, at least as long as Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SAC), has anything to say about it.

“Chronologically is bad. It doesn’t teach people,” Hawass said from behind his desk in the SCA building in Zamalek as countless assistants materialized from various doors. A red plastic button with the word “bullshit” sits on his desk. One gets the sense that the official makes frequent use of this toy.

The Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo certainly has a story. It is one, of course, of the artifacts it holds--the largest collection of Islamic art in the world, covering 1400 years of Islamic history from Umayyad to Ottoman. It is a story of advances in medicine and the spread of religion, of funerary traditions and science, of changing social mores.

It is a story of inclusiveness.

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