Venetia Porter is a curator for the British Museum and is responsible for the collection of Islamic art, in particular of the Arab World and Turkey as well as developing the collection of the modern and contemporary art of the Middle East. She was the previous curator of Islamic coins in the Department of Coins and Medals and recently curated the exhibition, Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam (2012).
Porter received a degree in Arabic and Persian from the University of Oxford, followed by M.Phil. of Islamic Art. She later obtained her Ph.D. on, ‘the history and monuments of the Tahirid dynasty of the Yemen 858-923/1454-1517’ from the University of Durham.
Selected publications include: Hajj: Collected essays (2012); The Art of Hajj (2012); Arabic and Persian Seals and Amulets in the British Museum (2011); Word into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East (2006); Mightier than the Sword, with Heba Salih (2004); and Islamic Tiles (1995).
The British Museum
So the first works that we collected were calligraphic works and then since that time, we’ve moved on to collect a very diverse range of material. And the reason why it’s important is that we’re a history museum and a lot of the artists, whether it’s the modernists or the contemporary artists, reflect a lot on their heritage, on their culture. So whether it’s an artist who is using calligraphy in a very contemporary way or an artist who is talking about the modern politics of what’s going on in Iran or Iraq or Syria, these are works that we want to acquire for the British Museum.
Parviz Tanavoli is extremely important and you will have seen the heech coming out of the cage that is exhibited actually on the ground floor of the British Museum. And he is a very, very important artist because with another artist called Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, they were the founder members, if you like, of a movement, a very important movement, which was known as Saqqakhaneh, and so what you have is a number of artists who weren’t necessarily working together but this kind of phrase has been given to them. The Saqqakhaneh is actually the water fountain, because it goes back to a tradition going back to the history of Shi’ism.
Iranian Culture and the Cage
And the cage and the word Saqqakhaneh, they symbolized what actually happened, which was that water was very important during this battle; they were cut off from the water, and so one of the relatives, Amabas, went to try and find water but his hands were cut off and it’s a real terrible, terrible tragic story, but anyway, water is very, very important. And so there’s always been a tradition that there are these water fountains and they’re for the poor and anybody can go and get the water. So they’ve become sort of this Saqqakhaneh self, is this water fountain is very, very important in Iranian culture and so it gave its name to this movement.