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Thursday, October 20th, 2016

Bucks County Museum Art of Islam Exhibition and Festival Finishes with a Flourish

BCM Art of Islam Exhibition and Festival had been in full flight since April this year and finished with a flourish at the end of September. I have been very privileged to work with BCM since January 2016 on its Art of Islam Exhibition and Festival. It has been an eye opening and enriching experience which has brought me into contact with a wide range of individuals across Buckinghamshire community both Muslim and non-Muslim.

With artefacts from across the Muslim world including medieval Qur’ans, intricate carpets, stunning calligraphy, and beautifully crafted glass work, furnishings and fabrics, to mention but a few, the Exhibition has formed an extensive and insightful window into the art and culture of Islam in all its immense diversity.

Razwan Baig, Bucks resident and private collector has been a key supporter of the Exhibition and Festival, “Islamic art, much like Islam itself, can be opaque to many. Being an avid collector of Islamic art, I felt it was my duty to showcase the artisanal side of Islam through my humble knowledge and collection. I believe that art can build bridges between our cultural islands.”

Eid Celebration July 2016 BCM

from left to right, Fiaz Raja, Aylesbury resident and Eid Party organizer, Interim Chief Executive BCC Neil Gibson, High Sheriff Milly Soames and Hatiq Mohammed, “Teakster”, Bucks resident and artist in front of Al Wahda mural.

The Festival has been an ambitious extension of the Exhibition itself, covering 4 urban centres in Buckinghamshire, Aylesbury, Chesham, High Wycombe and Milton Keynes. Workshops have included calligraphy, arabesque design, zilig tile work, plasterwork carving and illuminated borders in addition to public lectures and drama workshops in schools. A key event for the Museum was the Eid celebration in July in the gardens organized and run by the local community, led by Fiaz Raja and attended by Interim Chief Executive of Bucks County Council, Neil Gibson.

“The event was a ‘first of type’…. to provide a delightful insight into contemporary Islamic art & poetry, along with a traditional flavour of the interlinks between the great faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). The result was a really well received event hosted at the excellent facilities of the Museum garden. We hope we’ve laid the foundations to build on this for the future.”, says Fiaz Raja.


A central activity at the celebrations was an interactive artwork run by Hatiq Mohammed, or Teakster, a young and acclaimed Bucks based artist.

“The mural was commissioned by Buckinghamshire County Museum, which was created on a 8ft square canvas.  This piece symbolises the positivity and influence that Islamic art has on western culture. It uses the colours of the Buckinghamshire emblem with design elements by William Morris. It also contains the Arabic word “Al Wahda”, which means Unity.”

illuminated borders

Examples of Participants’ work from the Illuminated Borders Workshop in Chesham August 2016

Director of BCM, Richard de Peyer, has been able to assemble an extraordinarily diverse collection thanks to a generous Art Council grant and with support from partners such as the British Museum, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Birmingham University and Birmingham Art Gallery. This has been immensely successful in attracting a new, younger and more diverse audience.

“As a result of this exhibition the visitor profile to our special exhibitions gallery has been getting younger. Compared with our ethnic breakdown over the past two years it is also much more diverse now with nearly 14% of our visitors to this exhibition coming from a Muslim background. We will be following up with more work to engage members of the Muslim community who are now more than 7% of the Bucks Population as well as developing great new programmes for wider communities”, said Richard de Peyer.

The Festival has reached out to both non-Muslim and Muslim participants alike and has provoked many insightful comments, ranging from,

“The artwork is immensely intoxicating, you have to really concentrate!“ (Plasterwork Workshop),  to

“I didn’t know Islam was that tolerant” (Islamic Textiles Lecture attendee),


“I have travelled from Milton Keynes to Aylesbury, High Wycombe and Chesham for workshops, I wish these were more regularly available.” (Attendee at Calligraphy, lluminated Borders and Arabesque Workshops).

Some participants travelled from London and as far afield as Bristol to make the most of the artistic opportunities available in Bucks. Two attendees commented that art was a way to build bridges between different parts of the community and they were hoping to develop a similar Festival in Bristol to build on community cohesion.

Plasterwork Carving High Wycombe May 2016

Plasterwork & Carving May 2016

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4.Examples of Participants’ work from the Illuminated Borders Workshop in Chesham August 2016


Various representatives of local institutions and official offices have attended and the High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire 2016 to 2017, Milly Soames has been tireless in her support of both the Exhibition and Festival,

“I was delighted to be invited to the opening of the exhibition & instantly recognised that the breadth of exhibits from the very old to the very new would appeal to a cross section of people. This exhibition has forged new friendships & relationships & sown seeds for a greater understanding and respect for Islamic culture in Buckinghamshire.”

Tile Making High Wycombe May 2016

Tile Making High Wycombe May 2016

Lastly, it is important to note that Islam does not belong to any one ethnic group but finds its unique and incomparable message expressed across a wide range of cultures and through many different national approaches, whilst always emphasising the same core message.

“O mankind! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.” (The Qur’an, Surah 49, verse 13).

This Bucks Exhibition and Festival has been an excellent expression of the value of diversity, understanding and unity between communities as expressed through its wide ranging and all- inclusive nature.

Copyright @

Dr .S Bygate 27th September 2016

Dr. Bygate will be featuring a monthly column from now on taking a particular artefact from the Muslim world and reflecting on its origins and meanings in historical context.

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