The Hamas-Israel war does not necessarily divide the cultural world as evidenced by the reactions after the postponement of an exhibition of Islamic art in the United States. The Frick Museum Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) was to host the exhibition “Precious Ornament: 10 Centuries of Islamic Art” from February 4 to 25, 2024. This exhibition, which brings together various works of art, such as glassware, ceramics, ironwork, painting and weapons, had already been postponed the first time for scheduling reasons.
But on October 17, ten days after the start of hostilities in Gaza, the museum discreetly announced that the exhibition was postponed again, this time to August 2024. The museum’s director, Elizabeth Barker, justified this decision out of concern not to offend the sensitivity of visitors in the current context.
This decision provoked the indignant reaction of several Muslim and also Jewish organizations, which denounced a confusion between Islamic art and terrorism. Christine Mohamed, director of the Pittsburgh-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights group, expressed her disappointment in a statement: “The decision to postpone the exhibition under the pretext of potentially harming the Jewish community perpetuates the harmful stereotype that Muslims or Islamic art are synonymous with terrorism or anti-Semitism. »
Christine Mohamed also recalled the trauma and suffering experienced by the Palestinian people, and called for more empathy and humanity. According to 2017 and 2019 figures from the Arab-American Institute, the United States has 3.6 million Arabs, including 6% Palestinians. The Jewish community brings together between 6 and 7 million people.
Adam Hertzmann, the spokesman for a Jewish Federation in Pittsburgh, also criticized the postponement of the exhibition. He said Islamic art could be a source of dialogue and understanding between cultures, and that the postponement was a missed opportunity to promote peace and tolerance. He also stressed that Islamic art had nothing to do with the current conflict, and that it was regrettable to associate it with violence: “Equating Islamic art and Muslims in general with Hamas is certainly biased and is certainly something we are opposed to. » He added that he thought “Few people in the Jewish community would have been concerned about an exhibition on Islamic art because we understand that it has nothing to do with Hamas, which is a terrorist organization”.
Faced with the controversy, the museum changed its position and apologized in a new statement. He claimed the exhibition was postponed because the Frick failed to consult the local Muslim community, which he acknowledged was a mistake. “The Frick is sorry for hurting neighbors we deeply respect with our unclear communication on the postponement of this exhibition showcasing 10 centuries of Islamic art. We will work seriously to repair our relations with the Muslim community”, we can read in the press release. He promised to work with the Muslim community to present the exhibition in the future, with more historical and cultural context.