Opening on 18 October 2018, the new gallery is a new exploration of the Islamic world through art and material culture.
In response to the British Museum’s Islamic world collection and building on the collection of contemporary works on paper, Idris Khan has created 21 Stones. An installation of twenty one unique paintings, it will be displayed as a scattered formation on the dedicated display wall in the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World. Each piece is made with a unique piece of poetry, stamped with blue oil paint on paper mounted on aluminium using a new archival process. This acquisition has been supported by the Contemporary and Modern Middle Eastern Art acquisition group (CaMMEA).
Khan’s 21 drawings are based on The Stoning of the Jamarat or ‘Stoning of the Devil’ a ritual that takes place during the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. In this ritual, pilgrims nowadays throw the stones at a single wall which represents the original three pillars of the Jamarat. The wall in the gallery will give an impression of the wall of the Jamarat. Each drawing representing a stone thrown, and the words hitting the paper, solidifying the text into an artwork, almost re-creating the energy of the experience in Mecca. Viewed from a distance, the overall work has a strong visual impact in the second room of the gallery, but viewed up close the words are partially revealed, creating an intimate experience.
Idris Khan says, 'I have always imagined when a pilgrim releases a stone, and it hits the wall, the words and prayers that the stone represents explodes into a physical language. Over the past 8 years I have been making drawings and paintings using text. After writing a poem or a small passage of writing, I then turn the words into rubber stamps. These become my tool to create a geometric composition on either paper, gesso and aluminium, or as a wall drawing.
The words themselves are a personal departure about me and my life to date, and I never like to share them. It makes the viewer think differently, and for me it is supposed to be an abstract and meditative act. I see them as the starting point to make an abstraction. They are not representative of what the work is. They are a tool to get to the sublime. I do not want to be judged on the words that are used. I prefer the viewer to enjoy the image rather than try to understand its content.'
Visit the British Museum website
Watch Idris Khan talking about the work on the Today Programme.
Read reviews of the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World in The Guardian and Time Out.
Listen to Idris Khan talking about his work and choosing his favourite music – from Bach to Bob Dylan – on Soho Radio's The Art Hour.
Image: Portrait of Idris Khan and his new work, 21 Stones, 2018, at the British Museum
Photography: Guy Bell