With more than 10,000 objects and artefacts, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and Jameel Gallery contain one of the largest collections of Islamic art in the world. The collection embodies Muslim creative and Islamic art history while the annual Jameel Prize celebrates the contemporary art of Islam.
The Jameel Gallery at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum was launched in 2006 specifically for the purpose of displaying and celebrating the richness and beauty of art from the Islamic world. It has over 10,000 objects and artefacts including the Ardabil carpet which dates back to 1539, making it the oldest complete carpet in the world.
However, that which is referred to as ‘Islamic Art’ is not just something confined to history. Another important mission of this gallery is to support and promote contemporary work and a cornerstone of this mission is the Jameel Prize, an annual, international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition.
Inaugurated in 2009, the Prize aims to explore the relationship between contemporary practice and Islamic tradition as part of a wider debate about Islamic culture in the twenty-first century. The artists shortlisted for this years’ prize are from India, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the UK and their work ranges from graphic design, fashion and architecture to activism. Their collective work will form the 2021 Jameel Prize exhibition which opens this weekend on September 18th and runs until November 28th.
For an introduction to the Jameel Gallery, here is Ibraheem Ali’s account of his visit to the gallery in 2019.
As I stepped into the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and Jameel Gallery, it immediately felt like I’d been swept off the streets of London and deposited on another planet – one which was a glorious amalgam of all the Muslim world’s greatest artistic achievements.
On my trip I travelled across a far reaching map of cultural riches from the intricate ivory works of Umayyad Spain to the high fashion of Indian antiquity. Among the artefacts that left the greatest impression on me was the one below. Initially believing it to be a mihrab (prayer niche) from an ancient mosque, I was amazed to find that it was actually an old Persian fireplace. So many things I found were just everyday objects but crafted as if they were intended for the palaces of kings.
I was so mesmerised that I forgot to take photos so I couldn’t check back on the highlights of my visit. Imagine my delight on then discovering two entire documentaries dedicated to this gallery on Alchemiya.
Islamic Art at the V&A was produced shortly after the Jameel Gallery’s launch in 2006. It examines a number of the gallery’s most significant objects and breaks down their cultural and historical context. The documentary adds depth, nuance and life to the displays, in which every object is a character in its own right.
It brings to light an artistic legacy spanning the world and all inspired by the same divine love. It brings together elemental craftwork: stone, metal, timber, glass and fabric and celebrates the sheer mastery of these diverse disciplines. A true testament to the statement ‘God is beautiful and loves beauty.’
The other documentary the Making of the Jameel Gallery, tells its story. Starting with the relocation of the Ardabil Carpet from the old gallery display, this film recounts a vivid 18-month journey, via the USA, Iran and Japan, ending with the launch of the gallery in 2006.
If you are in the UK, I cannot recommend the V&A highly enough. There is so much to see and be inspired by, it feels like a week’s holiday condensed into a few hours.
Covid removed our ability to both literally and culturally travel. Hopefully we can now start to enjoy our shared, cultural experiences once more.