“The idea is to show that Islam has been part of French cultural heritage since the Middle Ages,” says Yannick Lintz, the head of the Musée du Louvre’s Islamic department, of a bold new initiative unveiled in Paris today. The French ministers for education and culture are due to announce the simultaneous opening on 20 November of 18 exhibitions devoted to Islamic art in 18 cities.
The Louvre is lending around 60 major pieces for these shows, which will run for four months. They will be presented alongside works drawn from national and local museums, libraries and churches. Lintz also aims to shake up prevailing clichés about Islamic culture, showing that it is “both religious and profane, much more varied than the Arab civilisation, and includes images of people—even the Prophet Muhammed.”
At each of the exhibitions, a film will retrace the places and monuments that are tied to the objects on display. There will be discussion forums for students and other visitors, conducted with the help of associations and religious communities. Nineteen artists, hailing from Algeria, Iran, Turkey and Egypt, have been invited to join the initiative and show their works. At the same time, the city of Strasburg in eastern France has set up an even more ambitious show on the Islamic art in its local collections.
Lintz says she was thrilled by the reaction of city mayors to the project. “Candidates were much more numerous than expected and we had to make a selection,” she says.
Such nation-wide events are rare in France, where cultural venues are concentrated in the capital. The idea was born from a speech by French President Emmanuel Macron last October in which he criticised the “factionalism of radical Islam” and proposed that the state promote “another view” of Islamic culture.
After a dramatic series of terrorist attacks in recent years, anti-Islamic sentiment has been on the rise across the nation. Preparations for next April’s presidential election are further adding to the tension. Alongside National Front’s Marine Le Pen, a controversial new candidate is appearing: Eric Zemmour, a columnist and TV anchor from the powerful Vivendi media group, who has been convicted of incitement to racial hatred against Muslims. In 2020, according to the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, overall racist attacks in France decreased by 22% but those committed against the Muslim community rose by more than 50%.