Exhibition dates: 21 Oct – 29 Nov 2015
Press Preview: 19 Oct 2015, 9:30 – 10:30am
From 21 October Leighton House Museum will display The Guardians, a unique exhibition of portraits showing the last remaining Guardians of the Prophet’s Mosque (Al-Masjid Al-Nabawī) in Medina. Taken by Saudi photographer Adel Quraishi, these captivating images hold enormous historical significance as the only photographs to have ever been taken of the Guardians.
Since the Ottoman Empire, the keys to this holy site and the mosque’s minbar have been kept by a group of eunuchs originally from Abyssinia, known as the Guardians. Once numbering in the thousands, the Guardians date back to the 11th Century as keepers of the keys to the Prophet Muhammad’s burial chamber.
In 2013 Adel Quraishi was commissioned by the Governor of Medina to produce portraits of the eight remaining Guardians as an historic documentation of their final generation, with three having passed away since their portraits were taken. The works formed part of the ‘Letters and Illumination’ exhibition in Medina the following year and they were also showcased at Abu Dhabi Art in November, presented by The Park Gallery. The forthcoming show at Leighton House Museum will be the first UK exhibition of these photographs.
Alongside the portraits of the Guardians, Leighton House presents a never-before-seen photograph of the interior of the mosque. Immensely detailed in its architectural rendering, yet abstract in its depiction of fluid figures, this photograph gives context to the subjects among which it will be exhibited.
Quraishi’s sensitive handling of his subjects is evident in the emotion that is conveyed by the sitters, while his technicality shines through in the radiant composition of the photographs. Quraishi explains: ‘As a photographer, I can connect to people more than I connect to still life. In a very deep way there were emotions not easily expressed, but I still felt it. You feel at ease around them. They have very balanced personalities. There was light in the room – not my own lighting, but there was something beyond that. A beautiful energy.’
Rendered on a large scale, described by Quraishi as fitting to the magnitude of his subjects, these photographs stir a connection between the viewer and subject and will have a striking impact when hung in the elegant surroundings of the Upper Perrin Gallery at Lord Leighton’s home.
The Guardians exhibition will be on display until 29 November at Leighton House Museum, and forms part of the 2015 NOUR Festival.