The Arab World in Paris

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The Institut du Monde Arabe (Institute of the Arab World), in the 5th Arrondissement, is at once a museum, a library and a cultural center. I had been to concerts here once or twice before but hadn’t toured the museum.

I had come down to pick up the program for their current belly-dance shows (more on this later) and decided, while I was there, to check it out for your benefit and see their current exhibition, “Arts de l’Islam.” The show starts with artifacts found across Central Asia and the Middle East from the pre-Islamic period, including many Greek-influenced objects and some beautiful mosaics from Roman Tunisia. It then moves into pottery styles, carpet and jewelry, though the stars of the museum collection are the illuminated manuscripts and calligraphy. It also includes medical and astronomical instruments, illustrating just how much more advanced in these areas the Arab world was in the pre-Renaissance period.

The exhibition is very worthwhile (especially if it would be your first experience with Arab art), as it is unusually broad. Normally such exhibitions are on a specific area—Ottoman Turkey, say, or Persia. Here I noticed pottery from North Africa, drawings from Mogul India, Turkish pieces and, possibly my favorite form, Persian miniatures. These tiny drawings are exquisite, worked in mind-boggling detail and controversial: they portray human forms, traditionally verboten in Islamic art (here’s not the place for the details on how they got away with it). The show also includes more calligraphy and beautiful geometric designs.

As with a lot of museums in Paris, there isn’t any written info in English . . . audio guide to the rescue! (5 euros.)

The Institut is holding a series of belly-dance shows until April—a great move, since Middle East cultural centers often shy away from this entertainment, which doesn’t help its image. If you’re feeling inspired, there are belly-dance drop-in classes available in Paris. No need to sign up. Just pay for your hour-and-a-half class at Centre de Danse du Marais or Centre Momboye when you get there.

Upcoming Belly-Dance Shows at IMA

Feb 13 Flowers . . . until the end of the earth
Paola Ruggeri and Gul Hacer Torok

Mar 2 Oriental Cabaret
Isabelle Delle Castelle and troupe

Apr 17 Oriental Lights
Annaba Company

Tickets range from 19 to 26 euros and can be purchased online or at the ticket office at the Institut.

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