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Cincinnati Art Museum gallery connects contemporary art with ancient Middle Eastern artifacts

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Cory Sharber
/
WVXU
More than 100 ancient Middle Eastern artifacts will be on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum. The gallery reopens on Dec. 18.

The Cincinnati Art Museum opens its redesigned Middle East art gallery on Saturday.

More than 100 artifacts will be displayed in the gallery. The centerpiece exhibit is a shrine that hasn't been in its complete form since the third century.

The new galleries will be arranged thematically and incorporate contemporary reflections on ancient pasts. Ainsley Cameron, Ph.D., curator of South Asian art, Islamic art and antiquities, says one of the themes is highlighting portrayals of feminine power.

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Cory Sharber
/
WVXU
The galleries will be arranged thematically, including this display on "Portraying Feminine Power." Curator Ainsley Cameron, Ph. D. says Cincinnati Art Museum is looking to highlight the feminine presence within ancient Middle Eastern civilization.

"When you think about the ancient world, you see these iconographies of power," Cameron said. "You see kingship. You see images of king, 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 feminine presence, so we wanted to push back on that a little bit."

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

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Cory Sharber
/
WVXU
The painted glass pieces by Shahzia Sikander, titled 'Caesura,' will occupy the clerestory windows across both sides of the gallery.

"You can see both the ancient and the contemporary together in such a way where it enhances both, so you're going to better appreciate the ancient art after you look at the contemporary art and then you're going to be able to really appreciate the ancient art in a new way as well," Dunne said.

Changes are ongoing in the 2,800-square-foot ancient 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 by spring 2022.

"It's been a little bit of a break during the pandemic and while we were under construction, but now people are really going to be able to fully experience and enjoy and 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, along with parking.

The museum has long-standing ties with the government of Jordan and has collaborated often with Jordanian scholars and officials to represent the Nabataean civilization. The gallery will include the most significant 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 (eight millennium BCE) and the end of the Sasanian empire (mid-seventh century AD).