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Forty-seven years ago, Nadim Sheiban arrived in Jerusalem from a small village in the Galilee to study at the Hebrew University. Little did he know then, the impact he would have on the modern day art industry. Sheiban, via his current position as the director at The Museum for Islamic Art, aims to shift the way in which Islamic art is viewed not only in Jerusalem but globally.
Sheiban spoke to Whitewall on the challenges and changes Islamic art has faced over the years.
WHITEWALL: What is The Museum for Islamic Art’s mission and vision?
NADIM SHEIBAN: The museum’s purpose or vision is to embrace the values of peace, freedom, equality, and respect for others. It’s really very important to me. When I came into the museum, I emphasized these values. Another thing is that I wanted the museum to be an active museum, not only passive one—to be part of the community, to try and be an agent for changing social and cultural discourse.
WW: How has the museum sparked cultural discourse and change in the community?
NS: When I came into the museum we just established a very strong educational department. Before that, the museum didn’t have an educational department. So now it’s very strong because we do a program under this vision. We work with schools in Jerusalem, with Palestinian and Jewish schools. Last year, we had 14,000 children from different schools. And also from private schools, from the Palestinian sector in East Jerusalem. Some of the programs were formed under the spirit of Islamic art, culture, and heritage, and some of them are dealing with democracy and living together.
WW: What kind of art can you find in the museum?
NS: When I came to the museum, we started contemporary art exhibitions. Most of them were an initiative by Israeli artists, Jewish and Palestinians, and many of them they deal with political, cultural, and very recent issues that everybody is really facing in Israel in society.
WW: What was the vision of the museum’s founder in 1974?
NS: The museum first opened in 1974 by Vera Salomons, the founder. She came from England and she studied Islamic Art at the Hebrew University and believed that she should do something to introduce the Islamic heritage and art to the Jewish community. It’s really dealing with issues relating to life through art.
WW: Since your appointment as director, what changes have you made?
NS: When I came in, I opened the museum for activists and artists, especially underground and non-institutionalized artists. I gave them the chance to present at the museum. These artists are at the start of their lives, Palestinians and Jews, so they can bring together a fresh perspective about art and culture and life in Jerusalem and Israel. The “Metabolism” exhibition [featured] 12 young artists. We attract young artists to be part of the scene. I believe in them [and] we are giving them an opportunity.
WW: How would you describe the impact of such art over the years?
NS: Over the years, we’ve become a well known museum. We’ve become an active art place that organizations and artists are willing to be part of.