10453 - 20170226 - Arab World Institute in Paris presents the exhibition 'Seafaring Adventurers, from Sinbad to Marco Polo' - 15.11.2016-26.02.2017

Boutre Nizwa © Reno Marca
Guided by the legendary Sinbad the Sailor, the geographer al-Idrīsī, the explorer Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, and many others, set sail—with the Arabs, the masters of the seas, and the great European sailors who sailed on their maritime routes—on a wonderful voyage of discovery extending from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. From the beginning of Islam to the dawn of the seventeenth century, it is a maritime adventure that visitors can see and experience in an exceptional immersive itinerary that combines sound effects, images, and optical devices. 
Extraordinary travel diaries have related the fruitful maritime exchanges that flourished in the seas of the Old World Visitors are able to view these wonderful accounts—the common thread of the exhibition—in the most famous travel diaries.

These accounts take the exhibition’s visitors on a journey at the crossroads of African gold and Western silver, Greek coins and Golconda diamonds, glassware from Alexandria, Venice, and Bohemia, and porcelains, silks, and spices from China and the Moluccas.

With Sinbad, the sailor and hero from ‘The Arabian Nights’, the exhibition initially introduces visitors to the strange and terrifying world of the sea, over which flies the formidable and mythical roc (legendary bird). It was also inhabited by sea monsters, which feature in the fabulous miniatures of the ’Aja’ib (‘The Wonders of Creation’) by al-Qazwīnī, the famous Persian scholar. Statuettes, pictures, ex-votos, and Latin and Arab miniatures will be displayed to highlight the mystical dimension, in religious traditions, of the dangers of the sea.

Maritime travel was a divine—and very real—undertaking. This is attested by the accounts of the Arab geographer and traveller from Andalusia, Ibn Jubayr (1145–1217), who describes the terrible sinking of a vessel, against a backdrop of images of storms.

Sailors had to learn to master the sea before setting sail. In a relaxed atmosphere, under the guidance of the sailor and cartographer Ibn Majid (1432–1500), visitors will learn about the art of sailing, see wonderful navigation instruments, and discover the development of vessels, in a journey of discovery complemented by many models.

Thanks to the development of cartography, sailors were able to better master the seas, as attested by the author of a famous map of the world: the geographer al-Idrīsī (circa 1100–1165), against a backdrop of medieval Latin and Arab cosmographies, maps and portolanos, world maps, and other astronomical treatises, and beneath a didactic and interactive sky.

The itinerary subsequently moves onto Marco Polo (1254–1324), the famous Italian merchant, and Ibn Baṭṭūṭah (1304–1377), one of the greatest travellers of the Middle Ages, whose sea adventures are related in a shadow theatre.

Both figures enable us to appreciate the extraordinary history of maritime exchanges, from the time of the caliphs to the dominance of the trading cities. From the outset of Islam, the Arabs took control of the maritime routes, from the Arabian-Persian Gulf to China. Items found in the Belitung shipwreck, the exceptional remains of an Arab vessel discovered in Indonesia, ceramics, objets d’art, manuscripts, and various coins will illustrate this chapter in history.

This was followed by a period of European expansion and the beginning of globalisation, which is evoked by the last guides on our journey, the Chinese navigator and diplomat Zheng He (1371–1433) and the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama (c.1460–1524). Major maritime trading companies then emerged, which had a lasting effect on these regions.

The immersive and rich exhibition scenography is divided into three sections and offers visitors a spectacular visual itinerary; it is complemented by many cartographic points of reference. Major travel diaries create a common theme and embody this great epic, and their accounts are on display in the various rooms. Sinbad, Ibn Jubayr, Ibn Majid, Marco Polo, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, Zheng He, and Vasco da Gama are brought to life using the ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ system. Invented in the nineteenth century, this system is one of the most widely used today in the creation of holograms. This press kit contains various extracts from the accounts of these travellers.

A majestic thirty-metre long traditional sailboat—an Omani dhow—will stands on the AWI’s forecourt, rounding off the exhibition itinerary.

Fruit of an exceptional partnership between the MuCEM and the Arab World Institute (Institut du Monde Arabe), the exhibition ‘Seafaring Adventurers’ is being held at the AWI between 15 November 2016 and 26 February 2017; then it will be held in the MuCEM, in Marseille, between 7 June and 9 October 2017.