British Museum blog

The journey begins

Qaisra Khan, exhibition project curator

The exhibition Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam is now installed inside the Reading Room of the Great Court. It’s the result of many, many months of work by not only the curators of the exhibition but also the project managers, conservators, museum assistants, the display, mounting, lighting designers, digital media design teams, graphic designers, construction teams, and art transportation companies! With everybody making sure all objects arrive safely and unpacking and putting them safely into their respective cases, this was truly a team effort. To get all of the objects displayed inside the exhibition space took over a month…and it’s finally ready!

British Museum object handlers mount a tile from Isnik in Turkey. The tile is on loan from the V&A Museum's collection.

Although as curators we had carefully selected each of the objects that feature in the exhibition, some of the objects travelled from far flung places and we had never seen them in the flesh before. Being close to these objects while they were being installed was a wonderful experience – they all surpassed our expectations! The scope of the exhibition, with 40 lenders from 13 different locations from around the world, is vast – and it has been an amazing achievement to get such wonderful objects together to represent the story of Hajj.

The magnificent Hajj banner from the Harvard Art Museum.

I was completely amazed, for example, by the wonderful Hajj banner from the Harvard Art Museum made out of beautiful scarlet red silk, which measures 369.5cm x 190.5cm. Dated 1683, it tells the story of the movement of Hajj caravans. This banner was carried from North Africa, which was part of the Ottoman Empire, by members of the Qadiriyya Sufi order on Hajj. It is a striking object which would have been seen by pilgrims from a great distance, decorated with floral patterns typical of the Ottoman era. The inscriptions in the North African style of script, known as Maghribi, clearly confirm its use on Hajj. In the 17th century this must have been a splendid beacon to guide pilgrims who were traversing great distances to reach the place of their dreams.

The exhibition opens to the public next Thursday 26 January and runs until 15 April 2012. I hope you can come along.

Leave a comment or tweet using #hajjexhibition to let us know what you think about the exhibition

Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam is open from 26 January to 15 April 2012.
Find out more

In partnership with King Abdulaziz Public Library, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

HSBC Amanah has supported the exhibition’s international reach outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Filed under: Exhibitions, Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam

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You can now discover thousands of British Museum objects in partnership with @googleartproject at We’ve asked staff members to highlight their favourites and explain what makes them special. Chris Spring, Curator of Africa Collections, describes why he finds the ‘Throne of weapons’ so powerful. ‘This war memorial celebrates the ordinary people of Mozambique, many of them unarmed, who stood up to a culture of violence. It represents both a human tragedy and a human triumph. The Throne's essential humanity is suggested right away by its anthropomorphic qualities - it has arms, legs, a back and most importantly a face - actually two faces. My first reaction was that these faces are crying in pain, though they could also be seen as smiling faces finally freed from conflict. These anthropomorphic qualities also link it immediately to the arts of Africa, in which non-figurative objects such as chairs, stools, weapons, pots etc are seen as - and described as - human beings. The Throne has toured the world, taking its message of peace to schools, churches, shopping centres and even prisons – and of course, to museums and galleries.’ #MuseumOfTheWorld We’re celebrating our partnership with @googleartproject, and have asked curators to tell us about their favourite objects. Hugo Chapman, Keeper of Prints and Drawings, explains why he chose this chalk drawing by Michelangelo. ‘One of the things I love about drawings is the way they sometimes allow a glimpse into the private, behind the scenes world of an artist, one unseen in finished works in paint or stone. An example of that is a red chalk drawing by Michelangelo of grotesque heads in red chalk that reveal that the Florentine Renaissance artist had a lively, if caustic, sense of humour. The three heads were probably drawn to amuse but at the same instruct his pupils, as the three studies show how slight changes can radically alter the reading of an image with the character and mood of each figure (paranoid anxiety; vacuous joy; and depressive gloom) signalled by the position and erectness of their donkey-like ears.  I wish my ears were as expressive.’ Discover many more incredible works of art in the Google Cultural Institute at

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