For thousands of years, nomadic tribes in Mongolia faced countless armed conflicts with their surrounding countries including the majority Han Chinese in China mainland.
The boundless Mongolian steppe became the most important frontier defence of the Han Chinese Government. During the Tang and Song Dynasty, more than a thousand years ago, many government officials in the frontier were literature scholars capable of creating great everlasting poems. In their long countless days in the steppe, these Chinese scholars wrote many timeless poems that have had long lasting effects on Chinese literature and also Chinese-Japanese ink wash paintings. The famous Wang Wei (699–759) of Tang dynasty is one of them who wrote poems that described the Mongolian land : “A smoke hangs straight on the desert vast and the sun sits round on the endless river.
While travelling on the ancient exotic route of Mongolia, one should bring along a book of Tang-Song poems. “Boundless sky is so blue, the wilderness seems boundless too. Rippling through the pastures, north winds blow; the grass bends low, cattle and sheep to show.” The poem itself is a collection of light and shadow, a true photography album.
For the past forty years, the Albukhary Foundation has committed itself to the areas of education, social welfare and religion, with the intent of bridging further understanding between cultures and faiths. On the cultural front, its key role has been reflected in its initiation and ceaseless support of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) in Kuala Lumpur, now the largest museum in the Asia Pacific. Its initiatives on arts and culture, now continues with the establishment of the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World at the British Museum.
Opening its doors to the public on 18th October 2018, The Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World is a major re-display of the British Museum’s world-class Islamic collection. As a comprehensive presentation of the Islamic world through art and material culture, it will underscore global connections across a vast region of the world from West Africa to Southeast Asia and reflect links between the ancient and medieval, as well as the modern worlds.
The British Museum’s collection of Islamic material uniquely represents the finest artworks alongside objects of daily life, such as modern games and musical instruments. The collection includes archaeology, decorative arts, arts of the book, shadow puppets, textiles and contemporary art. The creation of the Albukhary Foundation Gallery provides an extraordinary opportunity to display these objects in new ways that showcase the people and cultures of the Islamic world, as well as the ideas, technologies and interactions that inspired their visual culture.
Designed by Stirling Prize-winning architects Stanton Williams and in close collaboration with the British Museum, the new gallery has been created by opening up and significantly refurbishing two historic, 19th-century spaces on the first floor of the Museum. Adjacent to recently renovated European galleries, these spaces have been closed to visitors for several years.
The displays are enhanced by an engaging new programme of digital media that comprises a series of introductory films focussing on topics such as architectural decoration, ceramic technology, arts of the book and music. An accompanying website will allow for further research and exploration of the collections on display. The visitor will have the opportunity to engage directly with objects at a dedicated handling desk managed by the Museum’s volunteer programme.
The new gallery also accommodates a permanent presence for light-sensitive objects such as works on paper and textiles, which will be regularly changed. These will include stunning 14th century illustrated pages from one of the most celebrated oral traditions, the Persian epic Shahnama (Book of Kings) which will be shown alongside monumental folios of the 16th-century Indian Mughal emperor Akbar’s Hamzanama (Adventures of Hamza). Overseeing the gallery will be the curatorial team, which consists of Venetia Porter, Ladan Akbarnia, Fahmida Suleman, Zeina Klink-Hoppe, Amandine Mérat and William Greenwood.
Hartwig Fisher, Director of the British Museum, said, “The galleries and permanent displays of the British Museum’s collection show us the interconnectedness of our shared cultures. The Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World allows us to display this world-class collection to tell a more universal story of Islam in a global context. I am grateful to the Albukhary Foundation and the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia for supporting this important new gallery.”
Meanwhile, Syed Mohamad Albukhary, Director of the Islamic Art Museum Malaysia, said, “After years of preparation, it is enormously gratifying to see the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World open to the public. This gallery will certainly form an educational space and will contribute in strengthening the visitors’ experience and in their understanding of the Islamic civilisation”.
When auction houses are hammering away incredible prices on arts and antiques, it is normal that galleries would take advantage of the situation and tag items with a higher price. Hence, making owners with the knowledge of the product demand high or sometimes unreasonable premiums. Eventually, this circle will lead to a spike of fakes, imitations and forgeries. In modern technology today, news travels at high speed through the internet and social media world. It is not difficult for owners, collectors, sellers and even criminals to know what is of high demand in the current market. News like an 18th century Chinese vase found in a shoebox in an attic in France that sold for USD 19 million caused a big commotion among collectors, motivating them to embark on a hunt for such pieces hoping to have the same luck.
In a simple economical and business environment, demand dictates supply. What if the demand for genuine pieces are high but there is not enough supply? Ultimately, this will require an alternate source of supply to satisfy the market. Imitations or replicas of old pieces are thus produced and sold as new pieces for those who only seek nice affordable pieces for decoration purposes. However, unethical dealers would produce fakes and pass them off as genuine pieces with an intention to cheat the buyer. In short, replicas are legal, but if one tries to pass off a new piece as an antique it is considered a criminal offense.
The business of fake antique pieces is actually one of the fastest growing businesses in the world. In 2014, a report by Switzerland’s Fine Art Expert Institute (FAEI) stated that at least half of the artwork being circulated in the market is fake. Al Jazeera reported in 2015 the fact that buyers from China spent more than USD 5.5 billion on Chinese art and antiques in 2014, yet Sotheby’s Asian art expert, Nicolas Chow, said that: “Virtually 99.9% of what you see in the art world is wrong.” This alone poses as a rather alarming issue. Stories of collectors having porcelain makers in Jingdezhen use their genuine antique pieces as reference to duplicate high quality copies which they then place in smaller auction houses in America or Europe ‘claiming provenance’ is also a shock to hear. Some of the most recent cases in 2018 include incidents such as when the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent was found exhibiting 26 fake works by Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky and the Telegraph’s report on how there was only one genuine work of Amedeo Modigliani among a collection of 21 fake paintings that were on exhibition at Genoa’s Palazzo Ducale.
The fake market is now so common across the world that there is actually a museum exhibiting fakes. The Museum of Art Fakes in Vienna that opened in 2005 invited some of the master art forgers to exhibit their creations. Among them were German artist, Edgar Mrugalla, a self taught expert in copying works of Rembrandt, Picasso and Renoir. He has painted more than 3500 pieces by the time he was 65, jailed and eventually released to work for authorities to help uncover dubious artworks. On the other side of the continent, there is a famous art village called Dafen in China that produced an estimate 60% of the world’s oil paintings a few years back. People that worked in the studios and galleries were like art processors with jobs of ‘xeroxing’ famous works of artists no matter dead or alive as long as there were people in demand of the art piece. However, the Chinese government eventually intervened because cheap fakes were no longer viable in the rapid rising cost and e-commerce environment and original works were encouraged. This has however forced many art forgers to take higher risks to forge more expensive pieces in order to survive.
Although authorities around the world are clamping down on syndicates and master forgers in the art field, one must understand that to do so it is extremely difficult due to the efficiency of high tech scanners and printing machines these days. The similarity of the fake piece to the original piece is so precise that some experts hesitate on the originality of the piece and would play safe by commenting things like: “… to my best knowledge but the final decision still lies with the purchaser.” Every involved party is trying their best to keep a distance from such situations to prevent the possibility of being sued for negligence.
All in all, the business of forgery is a multi billion business in the world today. If one does not have the proper knowledge, financial means and fears being cheated on, it is highly advisable to stay away from becoming a collector.