“The idea is to show that Islam has been part of the French cultural heritage since the Middle Ages”, explains Yannick Lintz, head of the Islamic department of the Louvre museum, about a bold new initiative unveiled today in Paris . The French ministers of education and culture are to announce the simultaneous opening on November 20 of 18 exhibitions devoted to Islamic art in 18 cities.
The Louvre is lending around sixty major pieces for these exhibitions which will last four months. They will be presented alongside works from national and local museums, libraries and churches. Lintz also aims to challenge the prevailing clichés about Islamic culture, showing that it is “both religious and secular, much more varied than Arab civilization, and includes images of people, even the Prophet Muhammad”.
At each of the exhibitions, a film will retrace the places and monuments linked to the exhibits. There will be discussion forums for students and other visitors, conducted with the help of associations and religious communities. Nineteen artists, from Algeria, Iran, Turkey and Egypt, were invited to join the initiative and show their works. At the same time, the city of Strasbourg in eastern France has set up an even more ambitious show on Islamic art in its local collections.
Lintz says she was delighted with the reaction of the city’s mayors to the project. “There were a lot more applicants than expected and we had to make a selection,” she says.
Such national events are rare in France, where cultural venues are concentrated in the capital. The idea arose out of a speech by French President Emmanuel Macron last October in which he criticized the “factionalism of radical Islam” and suggested that the state promote “another vision” of Islamic culture.
After a dramatic series of terrorist attacks in recent years, anti-Islamic sentiment has grown across the country. Preparations for the presidential election next April add further tension. Alongside Marine Le Pen of the National Front, a new controversial candidate is emerging: Eric Zemmour, columnist and TV presenter of the powerful media group Vivendi, convicted of inciting racial hatred against Muslims. In 2020, according to the National Consultative Commission for Human Rights, overall racist attacks in France decreased by 22% but those committed against the Muslim community increased by more than 50%.