Qatar explores journey to hajj through art exhibition

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Qatar's Museum of Islamic Art recently launched a hajj exhibition to coincide with the Muslims holy pilgrimage to the Saudi Arabian city of Makkah.

The exhibition explores history of the pilgrimage or hajj, focusing on the routes taken by pilgrims and the rituals of hajj as depicted through art.

The exhibition, developed in collaboration with the British Museum, shows more than 100 objects, including photographs, videos, books, manuscripts and other historic artifacts, some of which have never been seen in public before.

Curator of the exhibition Dr. Mounia Chekhab-Abudaya said this is the first exhibition in the Muslim world to explore the art revolving around pilgrimage.

“The idea was to locally display hajj-related art pieces, using artistic and historic pieces inspired by hajj,” she said.

Abudaya says the exhibition offers the audience a local interpretation of pilgrimage.

The majority of the items on display are from Qatar based collections, but some items are also from private collectors.

“About 30% of the pieces displayed at the exhibition came from the Museum of Islamic Art collection. Some pieces belong to private collectors in Qatar. Other pieces belong to Qatar Museums Authority collections that were not displayed before,” she added.

The exhibition showcases pieces that date back to the 7th century and it's divided into four sections.

The first area is dedicated to pieces about Makkah as a historic and an economic city. The second section displays the journey from the medieval age to the Ottoman era until today. The third section is dedicated to pieces reflecting the rituals in an artistic way, including pieces of embroidered fabric that covered the Kabaa in the past, as well as a seven meter Timurid pilgrimage certificate that goes back to the year 1433CE.

The fourth area includes oral histories from Qatari pilgrims.

Aside from historic pieces, some contemporary art work is also on display; among the modern items is “Magnetism” by Saudi artist Ahmed Mater, a piece made from magnets and iron filings depicting the Kabba and worshipers attracted to it like a magnet.

Project manager and head of exhibitions at the Museum of Islamic Art Shaika Al-Nassr, says that although the exhibition revolves around a religious topic, it doesn't focus on the religious aspect of the journey or aim to educate people about the ritual itself.

“We can't deny that hajj is a religious subject, but we tried to focus on the artistic side,” she said.

Outside the museum is a photography exhibition that runs parallel to the main exhibition, featuring the works of five international photographers and their visions of hajj.

The journey to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is obligatory for every Muslim at least once in their lifetime if they're physically able, and can afford it.

Makkah has long been viewed as a spiritual center and the heart of Islam, as it was in Mecca that Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelations of the Koran in the 7th century.

The exhibition 'Hajj: the journey through art' runs until January 5, 2014.

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