Idris Khan: Islam Expanded

Idris Khan: Islam Expanded

A site specific artwork by Idris Khan is part of a new gallery dedicated to Islamic art and culture at the British Museum.

21 Stones is a series of hand stamped works on paper which feature in the recently opened Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World. The gallery presents more than 1600 objects (representative of more than 100,000 in the entire Museum collection) across 1700 square feet in rooms 42 and 42 of the Museum. The objects originate from 7th Century BC to the present day and from West Africa to South East Asia. Several years in the planning, the gallery has been meticulously researched and aims to give a structured and in-depth insight into the cultural heritage and impact of the Islamic world.

The Gallery features a number of works on paper by Contemporary Islamic artists. Khan was invited to develop a work for the exhibition; in response he employed one of his characteristic techniques, using handmade stamps to print text. For 21 Stones Khan used blue oil paint and autobiographical texts to create 21 unique paintings, displayed ranged across an entire wall.

The text was written by Khan and reflects on his life but its density makes it barely legible. The arrangement of the paintings is a reference to the ‘Stoning of the Devil’ ritual carried out by pilgrims to the wall of the Jamarat during the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Each drawing represents a stone thrown. At the wall of the Jamarat pilgrims throw stones at the devil; they also reflect and meditate. Through these two rituals pilgrims rid their spirits of impure thoughts. The wall bears the marks of these powerful acts of purification: there is a tension between cleansing and marks left behind.

"I have always imagined when a pilgrim releases a stone, and it hits the wall, the words and prayers that the stone represents explode into a physical language" - Idris Khan, FAD Magazine

Khans’ densely clustered texts are impact zones where introspection and meditation leaves material traces; evidence of the impossible complexity of living and its contrast to the search for transcendence.


The Gallery of the Islamic World  is part of the permanent display at the British Museum, Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG

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