The Arab World Institute in Paris launches exhibition on Eastern Jews to “fix ignorance”

PARIS: After the exhibitions entitled “Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca” in 2014 and the “Christians of the East, 2000 years of history” in 2017, the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris continues its trilogy devoted to monotheistic religions with “The Jews of the East, a millennial story.

It exhibits 280 works of art that bear witness to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world in an area of ​​1,000 square meters.

“This institute would only truly find its vocation if it was open to all the spiritual and intellectual heritages which marked the history of the Arab world”, declared the president of the IMA Jack Lang in a speech to the press a few days before the opening of the exhibition. It will take place from November 24 to March 13, 2022.

The Parisian institution exhibits “exceptional and unpublished” works, made available by 35 lenders – institutional or private – testifying to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world, from the Atlas plateaus to the banks of the Euphrates.

“Was it normal that the Jews, their culture and the Jewish religion did not have their place here? asked the president of the IMA.

He began to deal with the question two years ago, “shortly before the appearance of these movements, in reality very old but reappearing regularly in France, of negationism, of hatred, of racism, of the denunciation of the truth, confusion “.

He continued, “This event is a response by reason, by culture, by knowledge, a response by history.”

For French President Emmanuel Macron, this is a “great lesson” on “coexistence, mutual enrichment and exchanges between monotheisms”.

He said: “Identity is always more complex than you think and rubs against other identities to feed on it”, while denouncing the “obscurantisms” of recent times.

For the first time, Arab News in French has partnered with the IMA for this exhibition. “We are very happy to work with you,” said Lang in an interview, referring to his “immense admiration for the work done today in the Kingdom by the Saudi authorities in general and by Prince Badr in particular”.

“People all over the world have absolutely no idea how much a real cultural revolution is taking place in Saudi Arabia, in all fields such as art, cinema, theater, literature, painting. , sculpture, music … “, continued the president, who will fly away. in a few days in Jeddah for the Red Sea Film Festival, which promises to be a “big event”.

He added: “I told Prince Badr, whom I met 10 days ago: you are not spreading enough awareness of the magnitude of the cultural changes taking place in the Kingdom today.

Among these Saudi sites “which will one day be better known” is the oasis of Khaybar, represented by three photographs by Humberto da Silveira at the start of the exhibition “Jews of the East”, which retraces in a chronological and thematic course, 15 centuries of Jewish presence in now Arab countries. The oasis of Khaybar, located on a main caravan route of the Hedjaz, was indeed occupied by Jewish tribes in antiquity, before the prophet Muhammad made it the “land of Islam”.

“Today there is a French team of archaeologists undertaking research on site to better understand this complex history of Jews and Muslims in this historic place, Khaybar, with the consent of the Saudi authorities,” added the president of the IMA.

One of the pieces in the exhibition that impressed Lang the most also comes from the Arabian Peninsula.

He admits having great difficulty in choosing just one, given the richness of the works on display: “Jewish women of Yemeni origin, who have become Israeli citizens, have created a fabulous musical group that travels the world. This relationship is extraordinary, because these Yemeni Jewish women sing in Arabic. The three Haim sisters (Tair, Liron and Tagel) with their group A-WA, have enjoyed phenomenal success on YouTube with their song “Habib Galbi”, which mixes traditional Yemeni songs with hip-hop beats.

The public will rediscover the clip “Hana Mash Hu Al-Yaman” at the end of the exhibition, the last step in a history spanning more than 2000 years. It shows the history of Jewish communities in the Arab world, from the first links forged between the Jewish tribes of the Kingdom and the Prophet Muhammad until the final exile, the emergence of great scholars, such as Saadia Gaon, Maimonides or Joseph Caro , during the medieval caliphates in Baghdad, Fez, Cairo and Cordoba, and the rise of Jewish urban centers in the Maghreb and the Ottoman Empire.

“Never before has the history of the Jews been told in these countries which have now become Arab countries. It had never been told on a millennial scale, from antiquity until today, ”Lang said, adding:“ It is a way of fixing ignorance, of showing that the Arab world is rich in religions and successive cultures, which have shaped its originality. “

Asked about the apprehensions that this exhibition could arouse on the Palestinian side, Lang explained that “the exhibition absolutely does not address the political questions of today”.

“There are other occasions for the IMA to bring them up,” he said, referring to the upcoming publication of a book called “What the Palestinians Bring to the World”.

Much like the exhibition’s general curator, historian Benjamin Stora, who said that “we would miss our mark if we only talked about the end, the ‘why’ the Jews left,” Lang insists to show that : “Above all, we want to show that the presence of the Jews goes back a long way in history.

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