Louvre Islamic Art Exhibit: Perfect Timing?

The Mona Lisa recently got some new company at the Louvre in Paris. In September the Islamic Art wing of the world-famous museum opened in a time when racial tension in France is high.

The aim of the wing is to “showcase the radiant face of a civilization,” according to museum director Henri Loyrette. It also aims to heighten a cross-cultural understanding at a time when tensions are high in France, especially after a French weekly publication published lewd caricatures of the prophet Mohammed.

The wing, which cost about 130 million euro and took ten years to complete, is the museum’s largest development since the completion of I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid 20 years ago, according to an article from CBS News. The exhibit  features works from 632 A.D. all the way up to 1800.

Before this new addition, Islamic art was only displayed in the museum sporadically, according to an article from Al-Ahram Weekly. In the new gallery “the pieces have been inserted into a chronological and thematic display.” The article criticizes this organization because although its size and permanence is significant, the gallery does not give visitors proper context for the pieces.

Obviously the gallery has a high cultural significance because of its showcasing of Islamic art, but the political significance was emphasized when French president Francois Hollande paid a visit to the exhibit before its opening last month. Hollande was joined by the presidents of Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan.

Hollande called the gallery a “political gesture in the service of respect for peace,” according to the CBS News article. “The best weapons for fighting fanaticism that claims to be coming from Islam are found in Islam itself,” he said. “What more beautiful message than that demonstrated here by these works?”

I agree with the president. I think the gallery is an excellent way to educate Europe about the rich Islamic culture, and I think it’s great that the French president is supportive of the new wing. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe and tensions are high recently after the burqa bill and the cartoons in the French newspaper. This exhibition could serve as a way to unite the western world with the Muslim world through creating tolerance and an understanding of Muslim culture.

The Al-Ahram article points out that the Louvre is a perfect venue for a large Islamic art display because of its fame and prestige. The article states that the Louvre will attract a long list of donors and a lot of attention from the public. I agree with this statement. Visitors will come for the pyramid and the Mona Lisa, stick around for the new exhibition and will hopefully leave with a greater understanding and respect for a culture that has faced quite a bit of adversity in France and throughout other parts of the western world.