A rendezvous with an old friend took an unexpected turn. It plunged me into a world of profound intellectual and cultural exploration. Despite my affinity for reading, my well-informed nature, and my long-standing captivation with global thought, culture and heritage – a fascination that has endured from my days at the American University of Beirut to the present – some individuals have the power to compel you to confront yourself anew.
This cherished acquaintance of more than three decades, who, like me, was touring London, proposed a rendezvous at a restaurant nestled within the Wallace Collection, discreetly tucked behind Selfridges in central London. What I anticipated to be a customary lunch, replete with the usual discourse on health, family, business, reminiscences, the present and the future, was to be anything but ordinary. This lunch was destined to become the pinnacle of my entire month-long European vacation.
As it turned out, my friend had a purposeful motive in selecting this restaurant nestled within the Wallace Collection. He aimed to treat me to a remarkable journey through this captivating establishment that resides within the historic Hertford House in Manchester Square.
With profound enthusiasm and a wealth of knowledge, my cherished companion embarked on a vivid narrative of every piece that caught his eye within the museum’s vast repertoire. The collection encompasses a rich array of fine and decorative arts spanning from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. Notably, the assemblage features significant French paintings from the eighteenth century, exquisite furniture, weaponry, armour, porcelain and paintings from antiquity – all thoughtfully arranged across 25 exhibits.
His expressions reverberated with awe, “How exquisite, how majestic, how extraordinary, what ingenuity!” It’s nearly certain that his comprehension of antiques stands on par with that of the very curators themselves. His wealth of knowledge left an indelible mark on me. It was reminiscent of an experienced guide who has dedicated a lifetime to immersing himself in the museum’s displays.
This exceptional companion and confidant was none other than Mohammed Al Marri, a person I’ve had the privilege of knowing for almost three decades since our initial meeting in Dubai. An accomplished journalist of extraordinary brilliance, he embarked on a journey as a writer and ascended to pivotal roles, accumulating a multitude of accomplishments. Among his most distinguished achievements is the Dubai Library project, a reflection of his unwavering passion. Under the guidance of the visionary Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid, this library stands as a testament to Mr Al Marri’s devotion. It houses his invaluable art collections, including rare Arabic manuscripts, a testament to his enduring dedication to the arts.
A moment of pride is etched in my memory when my friend Mohammed became the inaugural visitor to the Dubai Moving Image Museum – an endeavour I established in Dubai. This space houses a substantial collection of my cherished personal artefacts, all intricately tied to the evolution of the moving image industry. Gathered over three decades and spanning numerous countries, these items eloquently narrate the dynamic history of the field.
As he wandered through the Dubai Museum of Moving Images and the History of Cinema, I couldn’t help but notice a familiar gleam of passion in his eyes. It was as if he had embarked on a singular journey, diving deep into the histories of cinema’s past and the origins of visual storytelling. He journeyed through the evolution of imagery and motion – from the ancient days when cavemen etched symbols on walls to the world of drawings and images that eventually blossomed into the cinematic wonders we know today.
Indeed, it’s worth re-examining the pivotal role museums play in the global tapestry of cultural tourism. They consistently attract a substantial influx of visitors who wander their halls, immersing themselves in art and rediscovering history.
Several European nations – Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, and Russia among them – have adeptly showcased how museums can evolve and orchestrate their collections to enrapture visitors. Personally, I champion more robust marketing and promotion strategies to unveil precious and rare artefacts. This could involve photographing these treasures, magnifying their presence, and artfully displaying them in new shopping complexes, local markets, buses, streets, towns, and villages. By giving these relics, from ancient civilisations, a ubiquitous presence, people would have the chance to engage with them continuously.
While the repast at the Wallace Collection restaurant provided a light touch on the stomach, the visit itself etched a profound mark on my mind, elevating me intellectually, culturally, and spiritually.
Despite my enduring passion for art and my extensive personal history of collecting antiques and archaeological treasures, the experience with my friend, Mr Al Marri, at the British Museum elevated my connection with art to unparalleled heights.
I sincerely hope for many more such exceptional luncheons in the company of esteemed friends.