Art and the Orient

    About Fikrun

    Fikrun wa Fann was a cultural magazine published by the Goethe Institute from 1963 to 2016 that supported and shaped the cultural exchange between Germany and Islamic countries. Together with the publishing of the last issue, “Flight and Displacement” (issue 105), in autumn of 2016 the maintenance and updating of this online portal was ceased.

    A Museum to Promote International Understanding

    Logo 'Museum ohne Grenzen'; Copyright: MWNF
    Logo "Museum ohne Grenzen"
    Copyright: MWNF
    The "Museum With No Frontiers" is the largest - and most convenient - museum in the world. It is open 24 hours a day, and doesn't even charge for admission. Anyone can go online and view 18 exhibitions from 14 countries, click their way from Islamic art to Arabic calligraphy and stroll along the exhibition trails. This article contains an interview with the museum's founder, Eva Schubert. In 1994, you inaugurated the "Museum With No Frontiers". This is an unprecedented project dedicated to the discovery of Islamic art. What is your goal?

    Our goal is both straightforward and highly complicated at the same time. The idea behind the "Museum With No Frontiers" is to deepen people's knowledge of history, art and culture so as to encourage cooperation between Europe and its neighbours. We believe that works of art, be they museum exhibits, monuments or archaeological sites, are ambassadors of the different civilizations and their history.

    Which impression do you wish to give of Islamic art?

    Virtuelles Museum Discover Islamic Art - Homepage der Virtuellen Ausstellung 'Frauen' - Copyright: MWNF
    Virtuelles Museum Discover Islamic Art - Homepage der Virtuellen Ausstellung "Frauen"
    Copyright: MWNF
    One essential feature of Islamic art is the fact that it is an integral part of life. It is not merely decorative or religious, but has an important bearing on everyday life and on the family and its domain. It is to be found in all areas, and is omnipresent. Presenting Islamic art and architecture in its broad-ranging social context is one of the main objectives of the virtual museum.

    What can the Western world learn from Islamic art?

    Virtuelles Museum Discover Islamic Art - Homepage der Virtuellen Ausstellung 'Die Normannen in Sizilien' - Copyright: MWNF
    Virtuelles Museum Discover Islamic Art - Homepage der Virtuellen Ausstellung "Die Normannen in Sizilien"
    Copyright: MWNF
    The first thing that every European should learn is that Islamic art is not "foreign", but was for many centuries also an integral part of the European identity. Its presence can be strongly felt in Spain, Portugal and Southern Italy; what is more, there are close ties with Christian and also in Jewish art. The distinction between the Orient and the Occident which is so often claimed to exist is merely an artificial one. In the area of culture and art, the two have influenced each other in many cases, and this continues to be the case today. This is what we wish to make clear.

    Is it the museum's intention also to change the image of an Islamic cultural landscape which people today tend to perceive first and foremost as a crisis region?

    Yes, absolutely. The problem with all crises is that they are only triggered by a small group of people, yet so many people suffer as a result. Countering this is certainly one of the tasks of the "Museum With No Frontiers". We definitely regard our agenda as being a political one, as we insist that art and culture have a role to play in promoting international understanding, and that we must take advantage of this.

    What do the Islamic countries hope to gain from the museum? Is it also a question of saving their art treasures?

    Virtuelles Museum Discover Islamic Art - Homepage der Virtuellen Ausstellung 'Die Osmanen' - Copyright: MWNF
    Virtuelles Museum Discover Islamic Art - Homepage der Virtuellen Ausstellung "Die Osmanen"
    Copyright: MWNF
    For the Palestinians it is doubtless particularly important to document their cultural wealth in the virtual museum, as this allows them to demonstrate that there are important objects bearing witness to the Palestinian history which are at risk of falling victim to the conflicts, and indeed have already done so. Some objects we exhibit no longer actually exist in reality. They have long been destroyed and can now only be viewed in the virtual museum. This is certainly an important aspect. However, generally speaking our primary aim is to document cultural history and make it accessible to people, thereby fostering international understanding.

    On your website, however, you not only present museum exhibits, but also offer a programme of "exhibition trails".

    Yes indeed. Basically, we aim not to transport works of art. After all, every country should have the chance to organize exhibitions of their cultural assets without any major investment. At the same time, however, we like to present certain exhibits in their respective environments, which is why we created the exhibition trails. These are virtual paths along which monuments and archaeological sites can be viewed in their natural environments. Thematic itineraries covering Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt or the "lights of the Mediterranean" take the visitor on a journey past oases, caravan stations and historic sights. This makes for a more illustrative presentation of the exhibits in their original locations.

    Your museum's perspective is always focused on the past. Are you also interested in modern art?

    Absolutely. Our next theme will address the colonial times, bringing us another step closer to the present day. We are of course also interested in contemporary art - the only problem is that it is very difficult to get permission to reproduce current works, so unfortunately our hands are tied.

    How is the museum's portal used? Is it a success story?

    It certainly is - at the moment, we have around 3,000 visitors to the museum every day. That's a really huge number, and very many of them come from Arab countries. However, people in the West have also shown increasing interest in Islamic art and culture during the years of crisis, and we are constantly trying to attract new groups of visitors. Just now we are in the process of broadening our "Learn with MWNF" programme as a platform for schools. Our aim is to give teachers easier access to the virtual museum, allowing them to "work with the museum" and pass on the contents to their students. What could be better than having teachers encourage their students to acquire a knowledge of different cultures at an early age? After all, that must be the basis for any form of mutual understanding.
    Sabine Danek is a freelance journalist specialized in the areas of fine arts and film in Hamburg.

    Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
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