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Islamic Exhibitions in Britain

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Britain has had a rich history of Islamic exhibitions. Here are a few of them which may surprise you.

  • 1745 Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens – Turkish Tent erected decorated with rococo art, this was the first time in UK Rocco art has been introduced in UK
  • 1849 Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens – An Algerian family were showcased with what was said to be the first Muslim woman in public in UK
  • 1850 Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens – A Grand View of Constantinople
  • 1851 The Great Exhibition – Halls from different Muslim countries were present with gems of their country on display. Persia, Turkey, India halls existed.
  • 1853 The Oriental and Turkish Museum opened at Hyde Park Corner, which featured wax works of people in different settings. The museum opened before the present Madam Tussauds attraction did.
  • 1860s Dr Leitner (who established UK’s first purpose built Mosque in Woking) sought to sell his large collection of Oriental antiquates to the Britain Museum for the sum of £5,000. The Museum trustees declined the offer.
  • 1865s Dr Leitner whilst teaching at King’s College wished to hold an exhibition displaying his “Oriental” collection. Trustees discuss the possibility of this being in a cupboard in the hallway outside the library with Dr Leitner insuring the items himself. After extensive research, it is still not known if it went ahead.
  • 1890s Dr Leitner having established the Woking Mosque has an enjoining Oriental Museum where his large collection is displayed. It is not totally clear how long the museum lasted but after Dr Leitner died some of the antiquates went to Surrey Heritage Centre.
  • 1895 Empire of Indian Exhibition at Earls Court built in a Mughal Indian style. A 300 feet high Ferris wheel with 40 carriages was a highlight of the exhibition.
  • 1904 Bradford Exhibition contained a Somalia Village, as part of a Human Zoo” 100 Somalias lived there for 6 months. It was the star attraction across the North with some 2.4 million visitors attending. One of the Somalia females who took part dies and is buried in Bradford with Quran verses on her headstone.
  • 1908 Whitechapel Gallery, East London holds the Muhammadun Art and Life exhibition. The opening day to the public incredibly fell on 27th Ramadan. In 2018, attempts were made with the gallery for a revisit evening event of this amazing event however Whitechapel gallery did not even wish to have a meeting and themselves decided not to entertain conversations via email until after a month after the initial enquiry after repeated follow ups and then decide to break off communication when asked specific questions around diversity.
  • 1961 Islamic art in India of the 16th and 17th centuries exhibition on display at British Museum
  • 1970 Arab costumes of Palestine exhibition done at the British Museum.
  • 1976 The World of Islam Festival – international event, 600 lectures, Queen Elizabeth II opening ceremony, BBC produced 6 30 minute documentaries. The documentaries may be viewed by clicking on the links:
  • 1976 World of Islam Festival Film Series: The Traditional World of Islam (1) Unity
  • 1976 World of Islam Festival Film Series: The Traditional World of Islam (2) Nomad & City
  • 1976 World of Islam Festival Film Series: The Traditional World of Islam (3)Man and Nature
  • 1976 World of Islam Festival Film Series: The Traditional World of Islam (4) The Pattern of Beauty
  • 1976 World of Islam Festival Film Series: The Traditional World of Islam (5) Knowledge of the world
  • 1976 World of Islam Festival Film Series: The Traditional World of Islam (6) The Inner Life
  • 1976 The Message, the first feature film about the Prophet Muhammad had its world premiere at the Plaza cinema in Haymarket, Central London.
  • 1978 Myth and ceremony in Islamic painting exhibition displayed in the British Museum.
  • 1983 Group set-up to establish an Islamic Museum in London and Cultural Centre
  • 1984 Arts of Islam in the 16th and 17th century exhibited at British Museum
  • 1988 Suleyman the Magnificent and the splendour of the Ottoman court exhibition at British Muslim. Some of the exhibits on display had for the first time travelled outside of Istanbul.
  • 2006 East-West: Objects between cultures exhibition held at Tate Britain, featuring Christian and Muslim encounters and exchanges over 500 years
  • 2009 Milton Keynes Islamic Art, heritage and Cultural is launched after 9/11 connecting communities and celebrating art. Since then it has become an annual event with their main event of the year “Art in the Park”.
  • 2010 1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim heritage in our world at the Science Museum saw the launch of the global tour
  • 2012 Hajj journey to the heart of Islam exhibition at The British Museum
  • 2014 Everyday Muslim’s ‘We Weren’t Expecting to Stay’ was exhibition was exhibited at Bishopsgate Institute and Vestry House Museum between Spetember 2014 to May 2015, Watford Museum, March 2016 -April 2016. The exhibition at Vestry House Museum, Walthamstow, London contained extra panels which related to stories specific to the area of Walthamstow in London where the Vestry House Museum is located.
  • 2015 The Birmingham Quran Manuscript is exhibited at Birmingham University. The Quran is believed to have been written by someone who may have met the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)
  • 2016 The Quran Manuscript is exhibited at the Faith gallery, Birmingham
  • 2018 An Eid celebration at Tate Britain included an Islamic tour of its artwork. The tour breaks the record for the greatest number of attendees on a tour. 4 new additions are made to Tate Britain archives and labels to paintings are subsequently changed. However Tate Britain, fails to have social media coverage of the day and refused to recognise the record breaking success despite their own staff testify to it! a
  • 2019 Muslim Human Books launched

Unfortunately, due to the Corona-virus this festival was not able to take place in 2020. 2019 saw the first Islamic Arts and Heritage Festival take place, on the first London Borough of Culture Waltham Forest. Around 1,500 members of the public from diverse backgrounds attended across a range of amazing activities and the festival received a glowing review from the Chief Executive Martin Esom “I was delighted to hear that last weekend saw our first Islamic Arts and Heritage Festival which took place at One Hoe Street over three days. Commissioned by London Borough of Culture 2019, working in partnership with Muslim History Tours and Halal Tourism Britain a new Islamic Arts and Heritage Festival, it was an extremely successful weekend and looks set to become a regular feature on our events calendar”. Sadly we were told that we had to apply for a grant on a 3 day notice to see if a subsequet festival could be funded.

Blue Plaque for London's First Recorded Eid Prayers 1894

The weekend had an amazing blend of creativity that will be engaging and captivating from historical hidden gems, storytelling, sightseeing bus tours, spoken word, Muslim Human books, film, workshops, comedy and exhibitions including the launch of New Faces New Places – Converts to the Islamic Faith.

The following programme took place.