Nada Shabout

Professor of Art History and Director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Initiative (CAMCSI), University of North Texas

​​​​​​Museums in arabia

Venetia Porter

Senior Curator: Islamic and Contemporary Middle East Art, The British Museum

Keynote Speakers

Collecting the Future: Why museums Must be Spaces of Decolonization and Active Reflection in the Arab World

The race to build new museums in the Arab Gulf region and later in Lebanon at the turn of the twenty-first century, initiated a number of questions about the need, role and meaning of museums and collecting practices today but mainly in the Arab World. Some of these projects were private collections turning into public institutions, others were started as collecting institutions, while few others are still clinging to a national discourse. At the same time, old encyclopedic and national museums were scrutinized for their politics and collecting practices worldwide and consequently were pushed to revisit their missions and future visions. All made more pertinent by cultural and heritage destruction caused by raging wars and disability in the region. Within this context, how should we thus understand museums in the Arab world? This talk explores few examples in terms of roles and policies as case studies from the region, particularly in relation to the writing of the historiography of Arab art and negotiating identities. 
Nada Shabout is a Professor of Art History and the Director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Initiative (CAMCSI) at the University of North Texas, USA. She is the founding president of the Association for Modern and Contemporary Art from the Arab World, Iran and Turkey (AMCA). She is the author of Modern Arab Art: Formation of Arab Aesthetics, University of Florida Press, 2007; co-editor with Salwa Mikdadi of New Vision: Arab Art in the 21stCentury, Thames & Hudson, 2009; and co-editor with Anneka Lenssen and Sarah Rogers of Modern Art in theArab World: Primary Documents, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2018. She is the curator of Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art, Interventions: A dialogue between the Modern and the Contemporary, 2010; co-curator of Modernism and Iraq,Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, 2009, and curator of the traveling exhibition, Dafatir: Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, 2005-2009. Her awards include: Writers Grant, Andy Warhol Foundation 2018; The Presidential Excellency Award, UNT 2018; The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII) fellow 2006, 2007; MIT visiting Assistant Professor, spring 2008, and Fulbright Senior Scholar Program, 2008 Lecture/Research fellowship to Jordan.


International Partnerships and Curatorial Innovations: The British Museum’s International Training Programme and the New Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World

The International Training Programme for museum professionals from around the world, has been running for twelve years during which time it has hosted 253 fellows from 39 countries.  The new Albukhary Foundation gallery of the Islamic World which opened in October 2018 in the heart of the British Museum, was the culmination of a three year project in which curators have presented a new vision for the display of material culture from Nigeria to Indonesia, from the 7thcentury to the present day. Islamic art, objects of everyday, textiles and contemporary works on paper sit side by side in two gloriously refurbished rooms with elegant wooden mangour screens designed and made by Saudi artist Ahmad Angawi.   This paper considers these two projects. It discusses firstly, the training programme, how it is structured and what it has achieved, focussing specifically on the participants and their institutions within the Arab world from Palestine to Tunisia and Yemen. It then goes on to discuss the approach and the theories behind the creation of the new gallery.

Venetia Porter has been a curator at the British Museum since 1989. She works on the Islamic collections with a focus on the Arab world and Turkey and is also responsible for modern and contemporary Middle East art.  She studied Arabic and Persian and Islamic Art at the University of Oxford, and her PhD from the University of Durham is on the history and architecture of Medieval Yemen. She has curated two major exhibitions at the British Museum, Word into Art (2006) and Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam (2012) and was lead curator for the Albukhary Foundation gallery of the Islamic World which opened in October 2018. Her research and publications, which range from Arabic inscriptions to contemporary art, include Islamic Tiles (1995), Arabic and Persian Seals and Amulets in the British Museum (2011), and she is also a contributor to The Islamic World: A history through objects (London 2018).