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Illuminating Faith: Art and Culture form the Middle East

Illuminating Faith: Introduction

Illuminating Faith was a partnership between the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Altajir Trust, and others.

The aims of the project were to highlight the collections and improve public access to them, to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the Middle East and to demonstrate its relevance to communities living in Birmingham today.

The exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery brought together items from both organisations' Middle Eastern collections. Displays included illustrated manuscripts, textiles and dress, ceramics and metalwork, originating from Iran, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula, and spanning the 9th to the 19th centuries.

An ambitious events programme expanding the themes of the exhibition was delivered across several sites. Information and leaflets were available in three phases, December 2004 - February 2005, February - June and June -August 2005.

The two major collections from which items were drawn were both formed early in the 20th century and have connections with the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers in Birmingham. In the 1920s Edward Cadbury sponsored Alphonse Mingana to develop a collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts for study at Woodbrooke and Selly Oak Colleges. Consisting of 3,000 items, about 40 texts were selected for display encompassing religion, literature, science, medicine, astronomy, history and law. Exquisitely written and richly decorated by hand, they show the skill and beauty of calligraphy as an outstanding art form. They included Islamic, Eastern Christian and Jewish items.

Wilfred Southall made several visits to Palestine between 1909 and 1936 and collected local dress and accessories, which he used in lectures and plays on his return to Birmingham. Donated to Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery during the 1980s, the collection has never been on display. A representative selection was included in this exhibition, providing a fascinating insight into the social history of the period and highlighting the distinctive woven and embroidered textiles.

Latest News

Designated Status LogoThe Mingana Collection gains Designated Status.
See the University Press Office and this MLA press release for more information.

The Illuminating Faith exhibition and project has now closed.

A selection of images from the exhibition are available on this website.

The Exhibition

Exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
12 February - 02 October 2005

Displays included manuscripts from the University's Mingana Collection, textiles, ceramics and metalwork.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Chamberlain Square, Birmingham B3 3DH

More information

For more information about this project please contact:
Meline Nielsen or Zelina Garland