The Discover Baroque Art Virtual Museum’s start in Brno

By Marek Pokorný, Brno, Czech Republic

For the Moravian Gallery in Brno (Czech Republic) the several years of cooperation in the Discover Baroque Art project have been a challenge, but often also a pleasure, accompanied with expectations of the result, which is now just opening before your eyes without any geographic or other frontiers obstructing anyone’s way to knowledge. I will never forget the first working meeting that took place here in Brno, and was hosted by the Moravian Gallery. The initial group of colleagues and initiators, headed by Eva Schubert, always full of enthusiasm and energy, was enlarged, in the course of time, by other people and institutions. No matter how the extent and reach of our intent expanded, its original objective has remained unchanged: To interconnect information and contexts relating to Baroque art, to strengthen the awareness of coherence and to restitute or, in some cases, to develop the sense and feeling of integrity that has always been immanent to European culture and art, despite all the historical re-drawing of the maps, drawn sometimes by reasons of emancipation or, on the contrary, by brutally implemented power. I really do appreciate that new technologies allow to indicate potential wholes in today’s so fragmented world, in which the knowledge of tradition and of the past helps to understand the others, but first of all oneself.

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The MWNF programme on Islamic Art in the Mediterranean

By Mohammad Najjar, Amman, Jordan

In 1995 15 countries of the European Union along with 12 non-EU countries signed up to the Barcelona Declaration, the aim of which was to develop security, stability, trade and cultural co-operation in the Mediterranean region. This was the stepping stone that led to Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean the idea of which, basically, was that the shared heritage of the Mediterranean countries could and should be used as common ground for cooperation; an opportunity to enhance these countries commonalities as much as to treasure their diversities. This task was not an easy one due to the complexities of the relationship between the Western and Eastern Mediterranean countries, better known as the Near or Middle East. From the moment of its conception to the present day, the Middle East as a geopolitical concept has been defined by Western powers mainly in terms of the problems it might cause for them. On the other hand, given this complex history of the “West’s” involvement in the Middle East, it is not surprising that many people in the region view everything that comes from the West with deep suspicion.

To make any progress, therefore, it was necessary to build a platform where upon different points of view could be freely expressed. The aim was not to refute the others’ perception and not to neutralise all the many different perceptions – definitely not to counter one statement with another that might be saying the exact opposite – but to highlight the diversity of opinions and utilise the scope this variety of interpretations might offer. In this way a space was created for countries to present their history from a local prospective; an opportunity to confront the many “stories” under discussion and create an atmosphere that fostered the freedom necessary to make their own judgments. Information technology made the task much easier.

As a result, the world largest online museum was created by MWNF in cooperation with 14 countries of the Mediterranean Basin. Forty museums have contributed to the creation of this unique presentation of Islamic art, interrelating artefacts from its collection with those of all the other 40 participating museums, and with Islamic monuments and sites from around the Mediterranean.

From this, the world’s most comprehensive approach to Islamic art and culture in the Mediterranean was created.

From a personal perspective, it became clear to me while working on the project that the strength of Islamic art and the vibrancy of Islamic culture lay in the multiple ways external influences have been adapted and integrated. These external influences were never a threat to any culture, including Islamic culture, and only become a threat when the indigenous culture was loosing its relevance.

While MWNF realises that we cannot create an ideal agreement by ourselves, we consider that what we have done and what we are doing is actually something of utmost importance: we are creating pluralism; building a meaningful public-academic platform upon which it is okay to disagree.

Among the achievements about which we are very proud – besides establishing the world’s largest online Museum of Islamic Art and in so doing bringing together more than 120 researchers and museum experts from 14 countries around the Mediterranean and in Europe to work together for three years to create it – is the fact that by the time EU-financing came to an end we had initiated several follow-up-projects, namely in the fields of education and responsible tourism, using our own resources. Thus MWNF has demonstrated the sustainability of the work already carried out and breathed new life into a unique forum for dialogue, cooperation and knowledge sharing.

Cultural Tours the MWNF Way

By Mandi Gomez, London – United Kingdom

The recently launched Museum With No Frontiers (MWNF) Travel portal offers a travel experience like no other for groups of seven or more people, delivers unique insight into various areas of cultural interest, and exemplifies responsible travel. Each of the tours offered in the 2009–10 programme focuses on a specific theme of Islamic Art in the Mediterranean within North Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe, and features a selection of art and architecture seldom seen on the tourist trail and not commonly presented in most travel guides or tour programmes.

The relevant thematic guide is available in print or as an e-book for travellers to peruse beforehand. They are based on the MWNF Exhibition Trail format where instead of moving the works of art, it is the visitor who moves around to discover monuments, archaeological sites and artefacts at museums within their natural environment. Researched and written by local scholars, Islamic history is told from the local perspective, an ethos upheld by the MWNF Travel platform.

All MWNF tour guides are qualified to at least degree level in the subject of the tour and are expert in the local history of the area. Unusually, MWNF publishes the names of its local partner travel agents, taking a small commission from all tours sold. This income is reinvested to manage and sustain the world’s largest online Museum (www.discoverislamicart.org), which in itself is an extraordinary free resource for academics, students and the intelligent reader alike.

MWNF demonstrates a dedication to inclusive, responsible travel in other ways too. It has devised and overseen various conservation initiatives in the countries concerned, and augmented and supplied signage to provide information about various monuments and sites. In doing this, it has given back visibility and significance to many of them and successfully secured funding and attracted publicity to support further conservation projects.

Importantly, therefore, MWNF has been successful in invigorating a forgotten or at least a depleted cultural pride in some areas. MWNF promotes local heritage: monuments and archaeological sites, museums and their collections, juxtaposing the very well known among them with the less prominent. By presenting cultural heritage in this way, MWNF allows unique insight into the subject of Islamic Art.

MWNF will inspire you whichever doorway you choose to enter it from: whether it’s through reading one of the thematic guides, via the Virtual Museum or in person on a MWNF Travel tour.