Re-discovering our Islamic collections

In October 2015 we successfully applied to the Islamic Art & Material Culture Subject Specialist Network’s support scheme and were offered a grant worth the equivalent of £3,250. We were pleased to be one of just three museums awarded a grant.

The Subject Specialist Network aims to unlock the potential of Islamic collections in museums across the country and to broaden knowledge and expertise in caring for and managing these collections. Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery’s Islamic collections form part of our wider world culture collection that was acquired by the museum’s curators in the 1960s and 1970s. The grant provides specialist support to examine and identify this collection as well as funding to photograph some of the most significant objects and share them more widely.

Islamic SSN project

Image courtesy of the Subject Specialist Network for Islamic Art & Material Culture.

The project is already well underway. In December, we were joined for two days by George Manginis, a Teaching Fellow in the History of Islamic Art at the University of Edinburgh. Together with Assistant Museum Officer Becky and volunteer Julie, George reviewed around 130 objects from our Islamic collections. These objects mainly originate from the Near and Middle East and North Africa.

George helped to identify and assess the significance of the collection and suggested new ways of interpreting objects. We now have a better understanding of the collection and how we might engage visitors with it. We discovered that particular strengths of the collection include weaponry, dress and everyday life. The collection also tells us about the interests of English tourists in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

We’re continuing to work on the project and will share our progress with you. In the meantime, here are a couple of our favourite objects from our work with George…

i-10-1973-54_p2 lo res

Does this weapon surprise you? We tend to think of daggers as dangerous and violent objects. However, the sheath for this dagger is covered in a beautiful piece of silk brocade, likely to date from the 1700s. Furthermore, the blade is inscribed with a form of Persian calligraphy called ‘nastaliq’. This elegant form of writing is used for poetry. Taking this into account, the dagger appears more decorative than deadly. Weapons such as this were carried by both men and women. They were rarely used to kill; instead, they functioned as a form of jewellery. Often elaborately decorated, daggers conveyed the status and power of the wearer. Who might have carried a dagger like this?

i-10-1968-207_p3 lo res

Do you know what this object is? It originated from Turkey or the Ottoman Empire and is known as a ‘kalamar’ or pen case. It was used to store ‘kalam’, a type of reed pen used for calligraphy. Our case is well made and beautifully decorated using a technique called chasing.  In the 19th century in places such as Turkey, the Balkans and Syria, people who knew how to write would carry their kalamar on their belt when they travelled. Raw silk or cotton fibres would be placed into the small ink pot, absorbing the ink so that it wouldn’t spill. Squeezing the fibres would release the ink into the pen ready to use.

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