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Opening Of The Albukhary Foundation Gallery of The Islamic World At The British Museum

by Adline Abdul Ghani

Opening ceremony of Albukhary foundation Gallery of the Islamic world at the Great Court, The British Museum.
Guests admiring the priceless artifacts displayed in the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World following the gallery’s launching ceremony.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, being guided through the gallery by Venetia Porter, Assistant Keeper (Curator), Islamic and contemporary Middle East of the British Museum.

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”.

An Invitation For Learning : International Museum Day

by Adline Abdul Ghani

Museums play a crucial role in their local communities, particularly in their cultural landscape and their natural environment.

And to celebrate the importance of museums, each year a special event is organised in museums throughout the world – International Museum Day.

4. Students painting with coffee and learning about coffee culture of the Islamic world.
Students painting with coffee and learning about coffee culture of the Islamic world.

According to the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the objective of International Museum Day is to raise awareness of the fact that, “Museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.”

The event is held on and around 18 May each year, with each year seeing a larger global participation than before. In 2017, for example, International Museum Day garnered record-breaking participation, with more than 36,000 museums hosting events in some 157 countries and territories.

This year’s theme, ‘Hyperconnected museums: New approaches, new publics,’ is truly apt, as it is impossible to understand the role of museums without taking into account all the connections they make. Thanks to technology, museums can now reach way beyond their core audience and find new publics when approaching their collections in a different way: it can be the digitalisation of their collections, adding multimedia elements to the exhibition or something as simple as a hashtag that allows visitors to share their experience in social media. However, not all these new connections are due to technology. As museums strive to maintain their relevance in society, they shift their attention to the local community and the diverse groups that make it up.

5. Wariscan, a prototype smartphone app with a Virtual Kiswah and Virtual Reality Holy Kaabah.
Wariscan, a prototype smartphone app with a Virtual Kiswah and Virtual Reality Holy Kaabah.
6. Children mesmerised by a storytelling session held at the IAMM Children's Library.
Children mesmerised by a storytelling session held at the IAMM Children’s Library.

This year, as in the years prior, the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia organised an array of activities specially for International Museum Day. However, the IAMM decided to organise the event on 18 July 2018, as May was reserved for observing the month of Ramadan. IAMM certainly made a real connection with hundreds of visitors that day, which included over 600 students from schools around the Klang Valley. 

In order to cater to its young visitors, the IAMM staff set up booths, which offered various hands-on activities. This included a batik-making booth, where visitors had the chance to try their hand at hand-drawn batik, as well as add their personal designs to a large batik piece.

At the Conservator Booth, people of all ages tried the Digging the Past Activity, where they could pretend to excavate precious artifacts.  And at the Curator Booth, visitors had a different taste of coffee culture by trying their hand at painting with coffee! Other highlights included a calligraphy demonstration by Persatuan Seni Khat Kebangsaan and Wariscan, a prototype smartphone app with a Virtual Kiswah and Virtual Reality Holy Kaabah.

Overall, it was a splendid day of learning for all IAMM visitors. Many of the young patrons left with a new regard for museums as an exciting place to learn and experience new things. And for the museum, it was an excellent opportunity to engage with the public and strengthen connections with them.

SALOMA : Retro Fashion Icon The National Museum pays homage to primadona’s trend-setting looks

by Adline Abdul Ghani


Saloma’s iconic retro garments were displayed in custom-made showcases that allowed visitors to see them a 360 degree angle.

Puan Sri Datin Amar Salmah binti Ismail, more lovingly known  as Saloma, is a primadona who has had an immense influence on our nation’s music and film industry, particularly during the late 1950s to the early 1980s.

Though she is remembered mainly for her extraordinary singing and acting, she also had a true talent in cultivating her own style and identity. Therefore, it’s fitting that the nation’s first songstress has been crowned the “Icon of Retro Fashion,” as Saloma was a pioneer, trendsetter and fashion inventor.

Saloma’s outfits were very much part of her glamorous image and persona, complementing the way she sang, spoke and moved, as well as her coy gaze and magnetic smile. Always dressed to impress, Saloma was among the first in this country to merge fashion elements of the East and West. Her iconic garments included Kain Kapas, Peplum, Kain Sempit, Kain Belah and Kebaya Ketat, with added touches of Western elements. Due to her attention to detail, she also added personal embellishments in the form of sequins and beads, as well as stitching techniques and twining. During her heyday, young women across Malaysia and Singapore emulated her style from head to toe, including the way she wore her hair and accessories. Today, some of Saloma’s iconic and enduring retro fashions and silhouettes are again all the rage, experiencing a revival in contemporary fashion design.

This bustier shows off Saloma’s incredibly slim and petite figure.

In order to organise this landmark exhibition, which was held at the National Museum from 8 August to 31 October 2017, the Department of Museums Malaysia collaborated with the National Archives of Malaysia, as well as Saloma’s family and friends. 65 garments, in the care of the National Archives, were selected for the exhibition, and they were all handled with care using professional textile conservation techniques recognised by the International Council of Museums (ICOM). Some of the display methods used by the museum include the 3D invisible mounting system (bukrem and ethafoam), padded torso and mannequins, t-bars, hanging cylinders and padded slants. These methods were employed to ensure the sustainability of the collection, as well to maintain their aesthetics. However, museum curators and conservators were faced with a unique set of challenges in handling Saloma’s garments. This is because the garments are much smaller than average, due to Saloma’s very petite, slender figure. Therefore, the display supports they used had to be painstakingly handmade to size.

The warm response that the exhibition has received from the Malaysian public is testament that Saloma’s legacy has endured and will continue to do so in the future.


A Spiritual Journey Capturing the essence of Muslim life in Southeast Asia through the lens

by Adline Abdul Ghani

2nd Place_Redzuan_Bohari
2nd Prize Winner Redzuan Bohari – Malaysia Caretaker of the 18th-century Kerisik Mosque in Pattani.
3rd place-Rahmat_HIdayat
3rd Prize Winner Rahmat Hidayat – Malaysia “Guide from the heart” Selected Top 50 finalists
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Etha Ngabito – Indonesia “Making their way to the mosque”
Lin Joe Yin – Malaysia Mass iftar (breaking of fast) at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur.
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Kritchayathorn – Thailand “New member”.

Over the years, the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) has hosted numerous photographic exhibitions to showcase the diversity of Islamic people and culture throughout the world. However, this year, the museum decided to organise its inaugural photography competition and exhibition, entitled “A Spiritual Journey: Islamic Culture and Heritage in Southeast Asia”.

The initiative behind the competition was to inspire creativity among photographers, as well as to document the visual appeal of Islam in Southeast Asia. It is a platform for photographers to immerse themselves in a subject matter that has not been the focus of any photography competition before. Through the eyes of these enthusiasts, the Southeast Asian Muslim cultural identity will be shared with the public and the world, providing new perspectives and understanding of the region.

More than 120 photographers answered the call and submitted their works. This diverse pool of talent not only hailed from Malaysia, but also Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, France, Germany and United Kingdom. Coming from different backgrounds, both professional and amateur, these photographers shared their views and perceptions of the Islamic elements of Southeast Asia, which is home to over 230 million Muslims.

They’ve captured various glimpses, from intimate moments of solitary prayer and reflection, to the nurturing of the next generation onto the spiritual path, as well as occasions where Muslims come together, united by faith and community spirit. It is clear from the photographs that the fusion of modern and traditional practice has developed into a unique identity, which can only be appreciated by a journey through the peninsula and archipelago.

The top three photographers – Mazlan Bin Samion, Redzuan Bohari and Rahmat Hidayat, who are all from Malaysia, were presented with Grand Prizes totaling MYR 10,000  on the exhibition’s opening day. In addition to the winning entries, the exhibition, which was held at the IAMM’s Open Space Gallery  from  14 July  until 14 October 2017, also showcased the top 50 photographs selected from the many that were submitted.

The encouraging public response that the exhibition garnered is proof that photography exhibitions continue to have a vital role to play, not only as a visual art form, but as a medium for expression, documentation and understanding.

Uncovering Bookbindings The Beauty and Workmanship of Handmade Islamic Manuscripts

by Adline Abdul Ghani

19th century Quran from Iran, depicting Fath Ali Shah Qajar and son Mohammad Shah Qajar.

Typically, when studying a manuscript, the focus is on what’s in the book, rather than what’s on the outside. After all, as the old adage goes, we must “Never judge a book by its cover.” However, here’s an exhibition that invites you to take a closer look at the covers of books, instead of their contents. Simply called “Islamic Bookbinding,” the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia’s (IAMM) latest temporary exhibition showcases 70 artefacts that comprehensively portray the beautiful elements of bookbindings from around the Islamic world.

18th century Quran from Iran with a protective pouch.
18th century Quran from Iran, adorned with multi-coloured gems.

Opened to the public on 8th May, the exhibition begins by tracing the history and types of bookbinding. This is followed by a look at the intricate designs and techniques, as well as the constituting elements that form a bookbinding. The objects displayed are beautifully-handmade, most from leather, lacquerwork and textiles. Some specimens show their age and evidence of frequent use, while others are perfectly-preserved time capsules.

Overall, the exhibition hearkens back to an age where bookbinding was a treasured artform in royal ateliers. Besides their practical function, book covers were ornamented with fine tooling, stamping, gilding and painting to showcase the status of the owner.  Some manuscripts are also equipped with additional housings, such as boxes, pouches and slipcases. And then there are those that are so sumptuously decorated with gemstones, they have to be seen to be believed!

The highlights of the exhibition are several rare masterpieces, such as a pair of royal Qajar lacquered book covers, depicting Fath ‘Ali Shah Qajar (r. 1797 –1834) and his son Mohammad Shah Qajar (r. 1834 –1848). Another outstanding piece is a Qur’an binding from the East Coast of the Malay Peninsula, featuring red Moroccan leather and elaborate tooled decorations with a central medallion.

19th-20th century Quran from the Malay Peninsula, featuring bright red leather and gold tooling.

Bookbinding is a topic rarely featured by art institutions, and this pioneering exhibition takes it a step further. It is the first exhibition of its kind to showcase a little-known and almost forgotten part of Malaysian heritage – the art of local bookbinding. Unique emphasis is given to local bindings made from textile that show detailed stitching of the endband placed over the spine.


In conjunction with the exhibition, the IAMM has produced a special catalogue of the same name, featuring artefacts from the museum collection, which will no doubt be a valuable reference on the subject. In addition, the IAMM’s Education Department has lined up a variety of public programmes, including lectures and hands-on workshops for adults and children, throughout the exhbition’s eight-month period.


For further information on this exhibition and its public/ educational programmes, please visit iamm.org.my.