Oman donates USD1.8 million to the Smithsonian’s African art museum

The largest donation in the history of the Smithsonian’s African art museum comes from the Sultanate of Oman.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art announced on 26 November 2013 that it has received a donation of USD1.8 million from the Sultanate of Oman. The donation, the largest in the museum’s 50 year history, aims to promote cultural collaboration between Oman and East African countries, facilitated by the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center in Washington D.C.

Left to Right: Virginia Clark, Director of Advancement, Smithsonian, H.E. Hunaina Sultan Ahmed Al-Mughairy, Ambassador of Oman to the United States, Richard Kurin Smithsonian's Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Director, Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art and mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves. Photo by Jessica Suworoff. Image courtesy National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Left to Right: Virginia Clark, Director of Advancement, Smithsonian, H.E. Hunaina Sultan Ahmed Al-Mughairy, Ambassador of Oman to the United States, Richard Kurin Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Director, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves. Photo by Jessica Suworoff. Image courtesy National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Connecting Africa and the Middle East

The USD1.8 million donation, announced at a press conference on 26 November 2013, is slated to fund a series of multi-year programmes to be initiated in 2014 under the title “Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa”. The project is a collaboration between the Smithsonian’s Washington-based National Museum of African Art and the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center.

Apart from spotlighting Omani arts and culture and the sultanate’s links to Africa, the programme will include commissioned performances, exchanges for art educators, lectures, workshops, and virtual exhibitions.

Hunaina Sultan Ahmed Al-Mughairy, ambassador of Oman to the United States, said in the press release announcing the donation:

This is a monumental partnership that we are very proud of. We’re looking forward to working with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art to bring a greater global awareness of the connections and history between Oman and East Africa.

Al-Mughairy also told the Washington Post that the gift highlights the “borderless character of the arts” and will “showcase the historical links between the cultures and people of the Indian Ocean rim”.

Fostering Africa’s visual arts

Events covered by the funding will include workshops on calligraphy and Majmar painting from Oman, a virtual exhibition of Omani postcards, as well as lectures, exchange programmes and a documentary film highlighting historical influences between Oman and East Africa. The donation will also go towards funding and commissioning several performing art events such as dance and opera from both regions.

According to the website of the National Museum of African Art, the museum “fosters the discovery and appreciation of the visual arts of Africa”. The Washington Post quoted museum Director Johnnetta Betsch Cole as saying that this donation will take the “cultural connections in Africa beyond the walls of the Museum of African Art”. The museum will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014.

Ablade Glover, 'Market Circles', 2009, 122 x 153cm. Image courtesy Nubuke Foundation and Ablade Glover

Ablade Glover, ‘Market Circles’, 2009, 122 x 153cm, at Art Dubai “Marker” 2013. Image courtesy Nubuke Foundation and Ablade Glover.

Art beyond borders

A number of recent initiatives and exhibitions have explored the historical influences and shared connections between Africa and Asia. In March 2013, Art Dubai’s “Marker”, an exhibition of curated booths, focused on art from five West African countries to highlight social and historical links between cities in West Africa and Dubai.

Singapore Art Museum’s “Terms and Conditions” group show (June to September 2013) was the first time that Arab contemporary art was exhibited in Southeast Asia. The seventh edition of the Biennale Jogja opened on 16 November 2013 with a Middle Eastern focus, inspired by migration and exchanges between Indonesia and Arab countries.

Beirut Art Fair ME.NA.SA.ART, which focuses on Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian art, will launch a new edition in Singapore in November 2014.

Kriti Bajaj

Related Topics: funding, museums, African art, Middle Eastern art

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