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L’Institut du Monde Arabe—a “Must See” On a Visit to Paris
By Elaine Pasquini
L’INSTITUT du Monde Arabe (The Institute of the Arab World) is not on every tourist’s itinerary to Paris—but it should be. Not only does it house the French capital’s pre-eminent cultural and learning center dedicated to the Arab world, but the exquisite building designed by Jean Nouvel—recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture—deserves a visit on its own merit. Located at 1 Rue des Fossés Saints Bernard in a small plaza on the left bank of the Seine, the institute consists of two main parts separated by a courtyard.
The south wall of the 11-story building which contains the library and media center features stainless steel photo-cell-activated diaphragms in traditional geometric Arabic designs. These control interior light conditions by opening and closing according to exterior light conditions. The other wing is a graceful curved seven-story structure resembling the river it fronts. Approaching the imposing edifice on a sunny day, a visitor is overwhelmed by the building’s mesmerizing silver metallic faÃ§ade.
Upholding its mission as a bridge between French and Arab cultures and as a locale to present the contributions of the Arab world in art, mathematics and science, the institute displays a variety of art and antiquities from Arab world countries. The permanent collection, including jewelry, ceramics, ancient carpets and manuscripts, is displayed on the fourth floor.
The institute also hosts temporary exhibitions. Last summer “Palestine: La Création Dans Tous Ses Etats” (“Palestine: the Creation in all its Forms”) featured works of 19 artists from Palestine and the Palestinian diaspora.
On view through March 14 is “Arts of Islam: Masterpieces from the Khalili Collection.” This exhibit presents some 500 pieces from the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, including richly illuminated copies of the Qur’an, secular manuscripts and paintings, wall hangings and carpets, exquisite ceramics, glass, metalwork, gold, jewels and lacquerware, along with wood and stone carvings.
A bookstore offers a large selection of works on Arab and Islamic art, history and politics. Unique gifts and art objects from the Middle East are for sale in a stylized souq on the main floor. The institute also has performance spaces, a sound-and-image center and a vast research library.
One of the best views of the City of Lights—including Notre Dame Cathedral—can be found on the building’s ninth floor panoramic outdoor terrace. Next to the open air seating area, Ziryab restaurant serves Arab food in an elegant setting. Mint tea and snacks are offered in the café on the ground floor.
As is Paris itself, this steel and glass architectural gem with its wealth of Arabic art, history and culture is worth many a visit.
For more information, visit: <www.imarabe.org>.
Elaine Pasquini is a free-lance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.