What is the content and the major focus of the From Andalusia to the Orient: Encounter of Civilization exhibition?
The exhibition is dedicated to the historical and contemporary dimensions of the links between Europe and the Orient. On the one side, it presents the entangled histories and intercultural dialogue between Europe and the countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa in the course of centuries, and on the other, the cultural interactions within Europe through the continuous and ongoing exchange of practices, images and ideas. Whilst various forms of contact are addressed (territorial, military, religious, economic, etc.), the emphasis is laid on the cultural interactions and mutual influences in the organization of social life, the development of cities, the architecture, music, crafts, fine arts, etc. Bearing in mind the centuries of cultural exchange across a vast geographical space, the leading principle in the exhibition is the notion of cultural heritage – as a possibility to outline the traces of the cultural contacts in the past and to approach their interpretation nowadays, when the relationships between Europe and the Orient are marked by new tendencies and new challenges.
The exhibition takes place within the framework of the Culture Program of the European Commission, with Tempora® (Brussels) – an organization with impressive experience in large international exhibitions in different countries in Europe and the world. The project includes as partners institutions from seven European countries – Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Aside from them, there are prestigious international organizations that support the project with their programs – Open Society Foundation – UK, CuLTures Association – Denmark, the Association of World Literacy – France, etc. The leading partner from Bulgaria is the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The work team from the Institute includes the leading specialists on issues related to cultural heritage and cultural interactions in Bulgaria and Southeastern Europe.
The encounter of civilizations in the Mediterranean has been centuries-long and multifaceted. How is it possible to cover this density across a wide geographic area within an exhibition?
Indeed, the interactions between Europe and the Orient are complex and multilayered, hence their summarizing presentation within an exhibition place is truly difficult. The approach that was undertaken of organizing these densely woven relationships into different heritage sections appeared very productive and efficient. There are four heritage sections in the exhibition – dedicated to Abrahamic, Arabic, Ottoman, and Colonial heritage, which are complemented by a contemporary part, focused on processes in the past two decades. The heritage framework permits seeing the mutual influences between Europe and the Orient as an array of cultural traditions and expressions – from continuous economic and social exchange and the deeply-running current of philosophical and literary traditions in the course of centuries, though the abundant testimonies in architecture, music and visual arts that have influenced so powerfully European culture, to the incessant process of importing objects, styles and life patterns that are inherent parts of our everyday worlds. Separate presentations in the exhibition are dedicated to the journey of words, the journey of tastes, and the human bridges that epitomize the relationships between Europe and the East.
The exhibition is extremely diverse in artifacts and modes of presentations – the visitors will come in contact with museum artifacts, historical and contemporary works of arts, everyday objects, documentary and film excerpts, musical pieces, video-taped testimonies, multimedia presentations, etc. A set of educational materials is also prepared on the topic, alongside a catalogue, an album of artistic works, a music CD, a website, printed and visual materials, etc. From the period of Arabs' conquests in Southern Europe, through the Ottoman rule in the Balkans and the complicated relations between the West and its colonies, the relationships between Europe and the Orient have been both conflictual and fruitful. The exhibition reflects the complexity of these relationships and invites for a genuine intellectual and emotional experience that will permit every visitor to find something important and meaningful.
Presentations of the exhibition take place in different European countries and these are paralleled by diverse cultural events in the course of two years. Tell us mire about these initiatives?
The exhibition has been conceived in three formats – a large one, a compact version, and a virtual presentation. The large version of the exhibition was opened in Brussels this September and already attracts the attention of thousands of visitors to this capital of Europe. The compact format, consisting of moveable panels ("Tempocases") was presented in Sarajevo and – after the tour in Bulgaria – will be exhibited in Germany and in other European states over the next two years. The virtual presentation is possible through the website of the project and is about to get developed further as a platform of discussions about past and present relationships between Europe and the Orient.
In Bulgaria, the exhibition will stay for seven months (October 2017 – May 2018) in Sofia (Universiada Hall), Samokov (Bayrakli Mosque, part of the History Museum), and Plovdiv (Banya Starinna Centre of Contemporary Art). A series of cultural events will be organized during the stay of the exhibition in Bulgaria. There will be weekly workshops and presentations related to its topic, book presentations, films screening, public discussions, culinary events, etc. In the spring of 2018, an international conference on the topic will be organized, with the participation of renown scholars in the field of cultural heritage.
What is the feeling to be a coordinator of a project with such an important and impressive exhibition?
I am extremely happy and proud with the opportunity of coordinating the work on this exhibition and to be part of a highly professional team with whom we could work together on this exceptional exhibition. The project is emblematic for the European Commission and is perceived as a leading one among the projects dedicated to cultural interactions. For Bulgaria, the participation in this international project is a sign of acknowledgment and prestige to be a partner in the European dialogue and cooperation on such an important topic. For me personally, and for the entire team, the feeling of making possible this exhibition in Bulgaria is extremely strong. We truly hope that the visitors will also be touched by the messages and the beauty of the exhibition, enjoying the richness of the cultural interactions that have traversed the European continent from Andalusia to the Orient.
This publication is partially sponsored by the Culture Programme of the European Union 2007-2013.