Tuesday, 10 March 2009

British Museum: Shah 'Abbas Exhibition

Being in London for over a week provided ample opportunity to take a well deserved break from photo expeditions, and imbibe as much culture as possible. The British Museum's splendid exhibition Shah 'Abbas: The Remaking of Iran was truly the week's cultural highlight, and a highly recommended event if you're in London.

The exhibition examines the achievements and the legacy of Shah Abbas, a Safavid ruler of Iran who lived 400 years ago, and who established Iran as a formidable competitor to the powers of the Ottoman Turks and the Mughals in India. The exhibition is beautifully set in the Museum's old Reading Room, whose interior dome I initially took to have been specially erected to match Shah Abbas' contemporary architecture but is its actual structure. I was fascinated to learn of the interconnections between Safavid Iran, Ottoman Turkey, Mughal India and Elizabethan England through this exhibition, and how Iran's political, religious and commercial influences spread to its neighbors, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

I left the Museum with two thoughts. If only the Bush administration had read the history of Shah 'Abbas, perhaps the Iraq fiasco would've been averted...I know, a silly thought. The other thought was whether the New York's Metropolitan Museum would have the courage of mounting a similar exhibition extolling Iran's past glory...I guess that's another silly thought.