The move has been in the making for a few years but was delayed because of Covid-19. It was in part inspired by the loans the museum made to the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation for the 2009 show Glimpses of Courtly Splendour, for which the Salar Jung condensed some of its Islamic holdings.
The Hyderabad museum contains more than 2,500 Islamic artefacts, including metalware, ceramics, manuscripts, carpets, celestial globes, astrolabes, jades, porcelains and copies of the Holy Quran. Right now these are kept across the museum’s collections, which are apportioned geographically, with holdings divided into work from Indian, Middle Eastern, Persian, Nepalese, Japanese, Chinese and Western origin.
The museum has the largest one-man collection in the world, with 46,000 artworks and artefacts that came mainly from the influential Salar Jung family. Under the Nizam's rule, from the 1700s to the 1900s, there were five prime ministers from the family, and their substantial wealth led to a large-scale collection for the Salar Jung palace. The museum opened in 1951 in one of the Salar Jung homes, and opened in its current building in 1968.
The new gallery will offer 26,000 square feet of exhibition space, spread across two floors of the museum’s eastern wing, meaning the collection of Islamic objects will rival that of other world centres, such as the Victoria & Albert in London or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The gallery will open at the end of 2022, museum officials say.
Muslims constitute the second-largest population in Hyderabad.
The re-classification of Islamic objects shows the continuing debate in museums over where to place Islamic art. While most Islamic art was made in Arab and Middle Eastern countries, thinking of it as purely a geographically based discipline excludes Islamic art from other major Muslim centres, such as Indonesia and African states.
At the same time, drawing “Islamic art” as a religious category separates it from the geographical groupings elsewhere in the museum.
The ongoing contentiousness of the issue has led several museums to reconsider how they approach it. In 2011, for example, New York’s Metropolitan Museum went the other direction from the Salar Jung Museum, and renamed its Islamic art galleries as Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia.