A Qatari Sheikh Plans to Open an Islamic Art Museum in Manhattan This Spring

The Institute of Arab and Islamic Art throws open its doors in May.

The Institute of Arab and Islamic Art is scheduled to open in New York in May. Courtesy IAIA/ Lilli Rose.
The Institute of Arab and Islamic Art is scheduled to open in New York in May. Courtesy IAIA/ Lilli Rose.

Just as President Donald Trump unveiled a revised version of his controversial executive order on immigration targeting Muslim-majority countries, Qatar’s Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Al-Thani shared with the Art Newspaper his plans to open the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art in downtown New York. And we won’t have long to wait: It is set to open in May.

The IAIA website has yet to announce the physical location of its exhibition space. Records at Company Detail show that Al-Thani registered the “Institute of Arab and Islamic Art, Incorporated” as a domestic nonprofit last year, on April 8, 2016.

“We exist because of an ever-challenging environment, and the current political climate in the US will only encourage us to continue our hard work and make sure that through our institute’s program, we will be able to engage the community to learn more about our cultures and differences,” Al-Thani told TAN. “It made absolute sense to build an institute that would not only showcase the breadth of art and culture from the Arab and Islamic worlds, but also challenge certain stereotypes and misconceptions that hinder cross-cultural understanding.”

Cultural institutions have been prominent in opposing Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, with numerous art schools denouncing the order and New York’s Museum of Modern Art incorporating work by artists hailing from the affected nations into its fifth-floor galleries of Western art.

Al-Thani’s planned 2,500-square-foot cultural space will host traveling exhibitions on a quarterly schedule, rather than having a collection of its own.

The forthcoming museum calls to mind the ultimately unsuccessful plans for a 15-story mosque and community center near the World Trade Center. The brainchild of developer Sharif El-Gamal, that project, officially called Cordoba House but dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque” by anti-Islam protesters, became a flash point for xenophobia when announced in 2010. The property is now set to house luxury condos and a three-floor museum of Islamic culture and religion instead.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this story noted that the IAIA website listed an address of 55 West 11th Street. The museum registered as a nonprofit using that address, but the physical location will be elsewhere in downtown Manhattan.


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