The Shah Abbas Exhibition

I'm just in from a very pleasant afternoon of museum-going and sushi, and wanted to point any reader at a loose end and in London to the Shah Abbas exhibition at the British Museum. I was very taken with it, and will blog further soon.

It had the usual nod to pc, of course, just like the Byzantine exhibition I went to before Christmas, and in this case it manifested in the form of a light touch on safavid brutality and a near-absolute refusal to use the word 'Persian'. These things are necessary, I suppose, to gain the consent of those who lend exhibits and the sufferance of those who might assault them.

That said, the museum neither hid nor celebrated the bisexuality of the ruling castes there, nor the somewhat casual and murderous hatred of gay men implicit in some of the poetry; it made no comment on the status of women as relatives or objects for cults; and it didn't attempt to place the way Europeans played Turks, Persians and Moghuls off in the early days of Empire.

Why should it? It was an exhibition, not an exposition. The lighting did something to the cobalt blue plates and tiles on display, which made them shimmer, and it was odd to see the domes of Isfahan projected beneath the mock-classical dome of the Reading Room. I also noted the concentration of wine, sufiism, and Armenian Christianity, and the admirably concise explanation of Shia islam and the twelvers. The explantion for the development of native Persian shrines away from Mecca--that they kept gold in the country--seemed sensible to me. So many things become clear when you just look at a map or follow the money.

I would also point out a secret to any female readers which you may know and which I only found out. My girlfriend, as you'll recall from the Cold War exhibition, seems determined to put me in situations that recall Nikita Khruschev for reasons of her own. He used to hang around the Bolshoi. I got much the same reaction today in a ballet dancers' clothing store off Covent garden, which is apparently where women should go to find out what the latest fashion undercurrents are, since ballet dancers need to know. This is a secret. Or something.

I lowered the tone anyway, for a while, but managed to reflect how much the shoes--with a heel but bent forwards in soft material--reminded me of comedy ducks.

That didn't go down well. Ah well. I should have banged them on the table, though it wouldn't have made anyone think of Mr Khruschev since, obviously, I do not look like him.


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