London’s world famous Victoria and Albert museum, which houses a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects of decorative art and design, has bowed to pressure from extremists by removing a depiction of Mohamed from its website.
The move comes three weeks after the Charlie Hebdo attacks amid security concerns, the Independent reports.
Initially the gallery claimed not to hold any depictions of Mohamed amongst its treasures, even though there is a gallery of Islamic Middle Eastern artefacts rankings from the 7th century to the current day.
But after a US expert drew attention to a poster which featured an Iranian artist’s interpretation Mohamed within the collection, it was quickly removed.
Academics were quick to condemn the move, saying it amounted to censorship and could undermine our understanding of Islamic art.
The museum, which has its origins in the Great Exhibition of 1851, was designed to bring together different cultural exhibits. But the move brings into question its mission statement to:
‘provide diverse audiences with the best quality experience and optimum access to our collections, physically and digitally.’
But according to the museum, the depiction is not widely available to view nor is it on the website.
“The V&A has one poster in the collection which depicts the Prophet Muhamed,” said a spokewoman.
“The image of it has been removed from our online database but it remains in our collection and as with most of our reserve collections would be made available to scholars and researchers by appointment.”
She said the decision to remove the image was due to the V&A being “a high-profile public building already on a severe security alert.”
The removal of the poster from the museum’s website has been criticised by experts who say that others have not bowed to the pressure of extremist threats.
The Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam included a contemporary Iranian image of Mohamed in an exhibition in 2013 which drew no complaints.
And the decision to self censor has led experts to fear that the understanding of Muslim art – which include images of Mohammed in some of the world’s most important collections – will be lost from sight and disappear from public galleries if others follow the example of the V&A.
The Tropenmuseum’s curator for the Middle East and North Africa Mitjam Shatanawi said “If Muslims feel offended by images made by other Muslims out of reverence for the prophet, I’m not sure if the museum should decide not to show them.”
The Islamic art specialist said, “It seems like choosing one interpretation of Islam over the other. These images are not made to disrespect but – on the contrary – to honour the prophet.”
The museum, in the heart of the ‘Albertopolis’ in South West London, is a non departmental government body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport which provides it with around 60% of its funding which in 2013/14 was nearly £40 million.
The Muslim Council of Britain declined to comment on whether the poster is offensive.