Art museum

Ancient Middle East gallery reopens at Cincinnati Art Museum

The Cincinnati Museum of Art opens its revamped Middle Eastern art gallery on Saturday.

Over 100 artifacts will be on display in the gallery. The centerpiece is a sanctuary which has not been in its complete form since the third century.

The new galleries will be organized by theme and will incorporate contemporary reflections on ancient pasts. Ainsley Cameron, Ph.D., curator of South Asian art, Islamic art and antiquities, explains that one of the themes highlights representations of female power.

The galleries will be arranged by theme, including this exhibit on “Portraying Feminine Power.” Curator Ainsley Cameron, Ph.D., says the Cincinnati Museum of Art seeks to highlight the female presence in the ancient civilization of the Middle East.

“When you think of the ancient world, you see these iconographies of power,” Cameron said. “You see royalty. You see images of kings, you see images that relate to how that power is displayed, but you don’t often see the queen. You don’t often see that female presence, so we wanted push it back a bit.”

Contemporary pieces will be displayed alongside the artifacts in the form of stained glass mounted on the windows on both sides of the gallery. Jill Dunne is the museum’s director of marketing and communications. She says contemporary pieces serve to connect the past with the future.

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Shahzia Sikander’s painted glass pieces, titled ‘Caesura’, will occupy the clerestory windows on both sides of the gallery.

“You can see both the old and the contemporary together in a way that highlights them, so you will appreciate the old art better after watching the contemporary art, and then you can really appreciate the old art of a new way as well,” Dunne said.

Changes are underway in the former 2,800 square foot Middle East Gallery. Architectural changes include new visitor pathways, LED lighting and new windows for more natural light. Dunne says more pieces will be added and the gallery will be fully open in spring 2022.

“It’s been a little break during the pandemic and while we were under construction, but now people are really going to be able to experience, appreciate and fully understand ancient Middle Eastern art,” Dunne said.

Most of the collection has been in storage since 2004 awaiting new gallery space. Admission to the museum and gallery is free, as is parking.

The museum has long-standing ties to the Jordanian government and has often collaborated with Jordanian scholars and officials to represent the Nabataean civilization. The gallery will include the largest collection of Nabataean art in the United States, according to the museum.

The ancient Middle East stretches from Turkey to the Indus Valley of present-day Pakistan, and from the Caucasus region to the Arabian Peninsula. The term “ancient Middle East” is often applied to objects made between the Neolithic period (eighth millennium BC) and the end of the Sasanian Empire (mid-seventh century AD).