Today is a landmark day for the Metropolitan Museum as we celebrate the new Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia, a spectacular achievement for the Museum and its Islamic Art Department.
These fifteen new galleries now trace the full course of Islamic civilization, over a span of fourteen centuries, from the Middle East to North Africa, Europe, and Central and South Asia. This geographic emphasis signals the revised perspective we have on this important collection, recognizing that the monumentality of Islam did not create a single, monolithic artistic expression, but instead connected a vast cultural expanse through centuries of change and influence.
I recall Director Emeritus Philippe de Montebello's words at the 2007 opening of the Leon Levy and Shelby White Court and Roman Galleries, citing it as a defining moment in the life of the Met, after which the Museum would never quite be the same again. I would assert that today is another such moment—one perhaps all the more defining because of the global circumstances that surround this occasion, as the situation in the Middle East continues to shift and evolve in the wake of the Arab Spring.
We must recognize that we live in a nation where a widespread consciousness about the Islamic world really did not exist until ten years ago, and that awareness came at one of the darkest hours in American history. It is our job—and the great achievement of these galleries—to educate our audience about the depths and magnificence of the Islamic tradition, to allow the richness of fourteen centuries to be understood not solely through the narrow lens of contemporary politics, but with the broader perspective of history and through the evidence of a remarkable artistic heritage.
I am proud today to say that my colleagues have done just that; these new spaces will enrich the world view of every visitor who encounters them. This capacity to reach beyond one's own visual memory and position oneself in a world much greater than the confines of nationality or geography is why the Metropolitan Museum was established. Over 140 years ago, the founders of the Met looked beyond the limits of our city and our nation and built an encyclopedic museum that would position America within the world. These galleries are the legacy of that ambition and a triumph for all who worked to see them realized so beautifully.