The exhibition traces the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad in unprecedented detail

Fourteen hundred years ago, the Prophet Muhammad made an eight-day journey known as Hijrah. Facing religious persecution in his hometown of Mecca, he led his followers on a 400 km trek through the desert to Medina. Meaning “migration” in Arabic, the event is considered a founding moment of Islam, and marks the starting point of the Islamic calendar.

Today, a major exhibit at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, better known as the Museum of Ithra, follows in Muhammad’s footsteps. It combines the latest research into the exact route of the Hijrah with immersive audio-visual exhibits that will allow visitors to experience it for themselves.

“There has never been an exhibition, documentary or film on the subject and it is difficult to underline the importance of the story for Muslims around the world,” says Idries Trevathan, curator of the museum. Islamic art and culture. “It really is a seminal story for over a billion people around the world, so it was surprising that nothing had been created before.”

Hijrah: In the Footsteps of the Prophet is built on the exhaustive research and fieldwork of Abdullah Hussein Alkadi, one of the world’s leading authorities on the Hijrah. Alkadi has spent decades researching and tracing the exact route the Prophet and his companions took through the desert, as well as exploring the larger history, life and legacy of this journey. For the exhibit, director Ovidio Salazar walked the route and filmed the landscape in unprecedented detail using drone photography, near-infrared cameras and time-lapse photography.

“A lot of people think of Saudi Arabia, they think of sand dunes,” says Trevathan. “Even Muslims when they think of the Hijrah journey, they will think of the desert you might find here in the Eastern Province. But in reality, the Hijrah road is very mountainous and very rocky. It is a incredibly spectacular, incredibly diverse landscape.

The exhibition is organized into eight sections for each of the eight days of the trip. Along with audio-visual installations and immersive films, the exhibition explores the material culture of pre-Islamic Mecca and Medina, through a range of artifacts from Ithra’s own collection and borrowed from institutions such as the National Museum of Riyadh. . These are complemented by new commissions from artists and artisans around the world, including India, Pakistan, Syria, Jordan, Spain, UK, USA, Turkey and from Afghanistan.

fraternity by Saudi artist Zahra Al Ghamdi is one of the contemporary art commissions in the exhibition Courtesy of Ithra Museum

“For example, we worked with Nuria Garcia, who is a Spanish calligrapher, to create what is called a Hello, which is a calligraphic portrayal of the words of the prophet,” says Trevathan. “We also have a work by Zahrah Al Ghamdi, which is a very contemporary piece where she got pieces of fabric, dipped them in the dirt and knotted them to create what looks like the roots of a big tree. She links it to a concept of brotherhood, where the Ansar, the people of Medina, and the Muhajirun, the people who traveled from Mecca, came together and created this new community.

Located on the east coast of Saudi Arabia, the Ithra Museum is operated by state oil and gas company Saudi Aramco and opened in 2018. Its exhibits explore art, culture and history natural environment of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as temporarily hosting international art exhibitions, including Edvard Munch and Leonardo da Vinci.

This is the first traveling exhibition of the Ithra Museum. It will be shown in venues in Saudi Arabia for three years, before traveling to venues around the world for another two years. The itinerary is still being planned, but Trevathan hopes it will visit Muslim-majority countries like Malaysia and Pakistan, as well as Western countries.

“What we’ve tried to do is fill in the knowledge gaps and tell the story as fully as possible,” he says, “but also show that it’s actually about a universal story – something that is relevant for Muslims but also for non-Muslims. It touches on universal themes that I think everyone can engage with – they include migration, camaraderie and love.

• Hijrah: in the footsteps of the prophet, Ithra Museum, Dhahran, until 30 April 2023; National Museum, Riyadh, June 30-November 30, 2023; then on tour

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