Religions line up side by side as East meets West

AP
"Here at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, we've accomplished history," Mohamed Khalifa al-Mubarak, the chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, said.
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An Emirati official walks under the dome of the the Louvre Abu Dhabi in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Stepping into the Louvre Abu Dhabi, one of the first artworks a visitor sees is a two-headed Neolithic statue from Jordan, one of the oldest known in human history.

That duality — looking back and toward the future, encompassing both East and West — is a theme that extends throughout the new museum, which is opened yesterday.

The conservative mores of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates that’s more buttoned-up than freewheeling Dubai, can be seen in the absence of art depicting nudity. Still, artwork at the new Louvre offers a brief history of the world and its major religions, not shying away from Judaism in a country that officially does not recognize Israel.

“Here at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, we’ve accomplished history,” Mohamed Khalifa al-Mubarak, the chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, said. “This museum is a lot more than just a museum.”

The modernist museum, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, sits under a honeycombed dome of eight layers of Arab-style geometric shapes. It draws the lapping waters of the Persian Gulf into its outer corridors, allowing individual beams of light that pass through the roof to strike the surface and cast reflections across the white walls.

In the first gallery, where the floor bears an outline of the UAE with the names of different world cities in Arabic, Chinese, English and Hindi. Different cultures face each other in exhibits: A a French suit of armor looks directly across from a Japanese warrior’s outfit. The museum makes a point of putting the world’s religions side by side.

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The Louvre Abu Dhabi in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

In one exhibit, a Jewish funerary stele from France in 1250 sits next to a Tunisian Muslim’s funerary steel and a Christian archbishop’s stone epitaph from Tyre, Lebanon. A painted French stone statue of Virgin and Child stands by a section of a Syrian Quran dating to around 1250, open to recounting the night during the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims believe the holy book was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

In another room, a page from the Blue Quran, one of the oldest ever found, sits near a Gothic Bible, Buddhist sutras and a Torah from Yemen dating to 1498.

In a Middle East still torn by religious and sectarian conflict, whether between Sunni and Shiite or Israelis and the Palestinians, simply putting them side by side is a major statement.

“By addressing their message to all humanity without distinction, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam transcended local cultural characteristics and deeply transformed ancient societies,” one placard reads. “These religions shared with Judaism the concept of monotheism but diverged on the subjects such as the representation of the divine.”

There are also works by James McNeill Whistler, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.


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