The newest of the Louvre galleries has opened this week: Islamic Art is now displayed in a marvel of architecture. Does Display (re)invent Islamic Art? This article examines how Islamic Art as an academic field was invented at the turn of the 20th century as it was being exhibited  in Paris, Munich or London. It analyses the French connection in the invention of Islamic art and reflects on the political meaning of exhibiting Islamic Art in a post-9/11 context and the Orientalist tradition: unveiling the Louvre veil on Islamic art.

The first islamic Art display at the Louvre: Delort de Gléon room, Pavillon de l’horloge, 1921

That article was published (in French) in Qantara, the cultural magazine of the Institut du Monde Arabe (Paris), #82, winter 2012. The issue was dedicated to the Invention of Islamic Art.

Musée du Louvre, Department of Islamic Art, Mario Bellini & Rudy Ricciott architects, 2012

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On the 7th of October 2009, the French Culture minister  announced the Musée du Louvre would return to the Egyptian authorities five  fresco fragments   supposedly stolen from a tomb in the Kings’ Valley (Louxor). Why did it break the news?

Egyptian officials and the returned hair of Ramses IIThe issue is not really new. Since the early 2000’s, the problem of cultural property have gained visibility and  became a  source of diplomatic and political conflict. Two opposite positions are confronting. On one hand, institutions in archaeological-source countries claim for the right to be returned, rapatriated or restituted “their” “looted” artifacts as part of the national heritage. On the other hand, 18 museums from antiquities-importing countries have signed the Declaration of the importance and Value of Universal Museums (2002) stating the artifacts in their collections do not belong to a  nation in particular but to the entire Humanity. As both arguments can be considered as valid, it results  in a deadlock situation such as in the case of the Parthenon/Elgin Marble whose property is claimed at the same time by Greek authorities and the British Museum.

The new thing about this recent return is that the Louvre is one of the museums that signed the 2002 Declaration. For the first time, one of those museums agrees in such a short time (less than two weeks) to return the claimed pieces… without negociating any condition. How was it possible?

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