The British Museum has been, since the 1980s, a pioneering collector of modern and contemporary art from the Middle East. To date, the museum possesses works by over 200 established and emerging artists from across the region, making it the pre-eminent collection of art from this region in the UK.
Works of art in the British Museum collection are principally on paper, and are selected to complement the historical collections because they “speak of their time.” The collection of modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art, therefore, represents social and historical realities of today’s Middle East.
The museum has been fortunate in its efforts to develop and expand this collection with assistance from generous individuals and foundations. Most recently, in early 2011, Maryam and Edward Eisler provided significant funding to help the museum expand its activities in this area.
The Eisler fund is enabling the acquisition of important works by Iranian artists, including the modernist Nicky Nodjoumi, calligraphic scrolls by Golnaz Fathi, a photographic work by Sadegh Tirafkan. Plans for an acquisition of a rare work by Charles Hossein Zenderoudi are in the pipeline.
Outside Iran, the museum continues to collect works by artists from across the Middle East. Over the last two years, we have acquired works by Ahmed Moustafa, Huda Lutfi (Egypt); Marwan Kassab Bachi and Monif Ajjaj (Syria); Jean-Marc Nahas, Mounira Al-Solh (Lebanon) and Kholoud Sharafi (UAE), to name a few.
In the same timeframe, over a dozen artworks have been donated to the collection by donors, collectors and artists, and these include an important selection of works by the well known Turkish Modernist, Burhan Dogancay, a large painting by Mehrdad Shoghi (Iran), a photographic triptych by Lalla Essaydi (Morocco), two photographs by Rula Halawani and Yazan Khalili (Palestine), a sculpture by Mona Saudi (Jordan) and works on paper by Fathi Hassan (Sudan/Egypt), Adel Siwi (Egypt) and Sabhan Adam (Syria).
This kind of collecting is of critical importance to the Museum as it seeks to ensure that the collections continue to reflect world cultures both ancient and modern. It is extremely important to place the Museum’s Middle Eastern collections in context and to show the influences of historical traditions on the emerging artistic trends of today.
“The reach of a global institution such as the British Museum will be a useful tool in ensuring that their collection will include a broad cross section of Middle Eastern artists, who are today poised to conquer previously unchartered territory" Maryam Eisler said. "My hope is that through our joint efforts great Iranian contemporary art will become readily accessible to a wider Western audience."