As-salamu alaykum, shalom, merhaba, and dorood, New York. Even though it’s very far from the Middle East, New York has so much to teach in terms of foreign history and culture. You can learn about ancient civilizations, modern art, food, language, and religion, to name a few. Here’s a look at institutions across the city that will provide you with the opportunity to learn about the history and culture of the Middle East.
It should come as no surprise that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has great offerings in art from the Middle East, spanning from antiquity to the 19th century. Permanent collections include Ancient Near Eastern Art, Egyptian Art, and Islamic Art. The museum also offers three exhibits that are worth seeing: Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom; New Discoveries: Early Liturgical Textiles from Egypt, 200-400; and Pattern, Color, Light: Architectural Ornament in the Near East (500-1000). The wide variety of items held in the museum spans centuries and civilizations, granting visitors a broad historical view.
Egon Schiele, Wally in Red Blouse with Raised Knees, 1913, watercolor, gouache, and pencil, Private Collection | Courtesy of Neue Galerie
Walid Raad is a Lebanese artist whose work is featured at the Museum of Modern Art. Born in 1967, Raad was experienced the brutal Lebanese civil war, and this is reflected in his work. His project The Atlas Group features pieces that reference the contemporary history of his homeland, with photographs, film, and audio. A more recent project, Scratching on things I could disavow, grapples with the artistic renaissance in the Arab world, even at a time of political, economic, and social upheaval. He offers lecture-performances for the exhibit, a promising means through which to learn about Lebanese history and how it shaped art movements in the Middle East and the U.S.
The Middle East is full of culture, and Alwan for the Arts brings some of it to New York. Through events like concerts, readings, dance performances, and films, visitors experience the cultural breadth of the Middle East. Check out a musical performance by Flying Street, a duo that creates a musical conversation between the artists’ homelands, Cairo and Montreal. For those wishing to learn more, there are educational opportunities, like classes in language, music, and dance. Learning Arabic is not easy, but, inshallah, Alwan for the Arts will provide you with a helping hand.
It’s important to understand and appreciate cultural diversity, and one of the Turkish Cultural Center’s main goals is to encourage cross-cultural dialogue and understanding. To do this, the Center organizes friendship dinners, cultural nights, book signings, and festivals. Say merhabato your classmates at Turkish language courses. For those who are ready to experience baklava in front of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the Center organizes trips to visit Turkey. There are many locations, so check out the website for the location closest to you.
Dorood, New York. It’s time to learn about Persian culture at the New York Persian Cultural Center. If you’re interested in learning to cook Persian dishes, this is the place to go. Enjoy a yogurt or zereshk polo. If you want to learn how to speak Persian, the NYPCC offers classes for all levels, so you can get ready for a trip to Iran.
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Say shalom to the valuable offerings at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a museum dedicated to the broad and abundant cultural history of the Jewish people. Though the main point of the exhibit is to detail the events of the Holocaust, the museum seeks to explain the events preceding and following this period. Learn about the creation of Israel, the Six Day War, and the Yom Kippur War. The Jewish people have an ancient history connected to the Middle East, and the museum takes steps to ensure that their story is not overlooked.
Learn about Islam at The Islamic Cultural Center of New York, the first mosque built in New York. The Center contains a mosque, library, lecture hall, museum, and school, serving the needs of Muslims in the city. The ICC hopes to encourage friendship and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. Stop by for prayer or interfaith meetings to learn about Islam and Islamic culture, or maybe just pass by to see the beautiful dome and minarets.
By Sean Scarisbrick
Sean is a graduate student at Hunter College, where he studies Middle Eastern history. He is particularly interested in cultural history and language’s contribution to culture. He loves Shakespeare, Malala Yousafzai,Game of Thrones, foreign languages (Arabic, Spanish, and French), and Arabic street art.