We live a convulsive world. Amid shortages of all sorts in western economies, violent clashes and protests in the Arab world against publication in a French satirical magazine of cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammed, the Louvre has opened a new wing dedicated to Islamic art. After ten years of works, at an expense of over € 20 million and introducing contemporary additions to the fabric of the building, the message behind such pageantry is one of approach and reconciliation.
I visited the new wing on a Sunday morning among a mixed crowd of visitors. French middle-class couples, groups of seniors, young and not so young Arabs pressing against the glass cases of the exhibits to grasp some of the aesthetic wonders of a world, whose geographic expansion and influence is measurably unfamiliar.
The width and scope of what is presented along with its chronological display has already provoked conflictive views. According to Marwan Mohammad, an author and journalist, the galleries display an Orientalist vision of Islamic art and not one that is inclusive of the Muslim community. President Hollande insisted during his speech at the opening that “the honour of Islamic civilizations is older, more vibrant and more tolerant than some of those who pretend to be speaking in their name today”.
And so goes the exchange with Islam. Opposing viewpoints overshadow a brilliant panorama of splendid objects that speak for themselves and do not need additional political readings. Yes, we do live in a convulsive world.