£5.4m Saudi donation to revamp V&A Islamic display

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The Independent Online

A Saudi Arabian company has given the Victoria and Albert Museum £5.4m for a new gallery of Islamic art from the Middle East.

It will be named The Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art, in memory of Abdul Latif Jameel, who founded the group that bears his name nearly 60 years ago. The group includes Hartwell, the property and car sales company.

The donation will be welcomed by scholars after other attempts to showcase Islamic art in Britain foundered. An exhibition of Islamic treasures due to open at Somerset House in London last year was postponed because of security concerns and the failure to raise sufficient sponsorship. Two years ago the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Shia Muslim sect, shifted his attempts to establish the biggest gallery of Islamic art in the English-speaking world to Canada when he failed to get the building he wanted in London.

Mark Jones, the director of the V&A, said the gift from the ALJ Group would allow the museum to showcase Islamic culture.

"When it was created half a century ago, our present gallery was the most advanced display of Islamic art in the world and ever since it has been instrumental in fostering appreciation of Islamic art," he said. "This gift will allow us toand use our collections to inspire future generations and spread a deeper understanding of Islamic culture."

Talks began with Mohammed Jameel, Mr Jameel's son and the president and chief executive of the ALJ Group in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, two years ago. "Our family has a keen interest in world cultures and promoting understanding between them, and a commitment to increasing understanding of the Islamic world," he said yesterday. The V&A's Islamic collection of more than 10,000 objects from the Middle East includes ceramics, textiles, carpets, metalwork, glass and woodwork. Among the most famous pieces are the 16th-century Ardabil Carpet from Iran and an 11th-century rock crystal ewer from Egypt.

The Middle Eastern treasures were bought for the museum in the mid-19th century with government funds and are said to have inspired generations of British designers.

The donation will also fund a touring exhibition before the new museum gallery is opened in 2006. The V&A is seeking funds for the refurbishment of the Medieval and Renaissance galleries, after the recent refurbishment of the British galleries, which cost £30m.