The Jewish state might not be the first place you would expect to find a fine museum of Islamic art, but thanks to an idealistic philanthropist named Vera Bryce Salomons, Jerusalem has one of the dozen such museums in the world, tucked away in the upscale neighborhood of Talbieh.
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Currently visitors can enjoy a three-in-one experience: learn about many facets of Islamic art and culture in the sprawling permanent exhibit, view a painful critique of the role of Arab women through the current exhibit by an Arab Israeli woman artist and tour a totally unrelated collection of outstanding antique hand-crafted watches and clocks, including one that was made for Marie Antoinette. (This section also tells the dramatic tale of the theft and eventual recovery of many of the priceless timepieces.)
The impressive permanent collection, with accompanying explanations of Muslim history, religion, art and science, is spread out on three floors and spans 8th-century Iran to 20th-century Turkey. The display includes jewelry, textiles, prayer rugs, dominoes, daggers, glassware and many personal items that give a human face to the culture, such as a pair of 17th-century high-heeled wood-carved bath sandals with silver filigree that make Jimmy Choos look shabby.
On the bottom floor is the (also) permanent clock and watch collection, housed here just because it belonged to the founder’s father, Sir David Salomons, the first Jewish lord mayor of London. You might wince if you’re wearing a Swatch as you eye gold and crystal timepieces that took over half-a-century to craft, among them, a number by renowned Swiss horologist Abraham Louis Breguet. Alas, Marie Antoinette never got to wear her pocket watch, as it was only ready long after her demise.
Until June, the museum is also hosting an exhibit by Fatma Abu Rumi, a 35-year-old Muslim Arab artist from the western Galilee, whose work flouts much of the tradition presented in the permanent exhibit of Islamic culture. Abu Rumi’s art explores the despairing condition of Arab women, often using the hijab as a symbol of the barriers placed on women by society. It’s curated by the well-known artist, author and curator Farid Abu Shakra. The exhibit is accompanied by a series of Tuesday night talks (in Hebrew) on the situation of Arab women.
A bonus: This Thursday, December 20, entry to the museum is free from 1 P.M. to 9 P.M. and includes a concert capping off the Arab music festival. The performances at 9 P.M., 10 P.M. and 11 P.M. are first come, first seated.
The L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art
2 Hapalmach Street, Jerusalem (right next to the Jerusalem Theater)
Admission fee: Adults: NIS 40, soldiers, police and students: NIS 30 and children, teenagers and senior citizens: NIS 20
Hours: Sunday, Monday and Wednesday: 10 A.M. to 3 P.M., Tuesday and Thursday: 10 A.M. to 7 P.M., Friday: 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. and Saturday 10 A.M. to 4 P.M.