COURTESY NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SAUDI ARABIA

‘Roads of Arabia’ leads to new discoveries

“Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” provides a striking combination of more than 200 rare objects never before seen in North America and a wealth of information about the region.

Now on its final stop at the Asian Art Museum in The City, the large traveling exhibit, curated at the Asian by Dany Chan, features archeological and art objects displayed brilliantly by exhibit designer Marco Centin.

In-depth documentation throughout the show helps turn the country and the region from a largely opaque subject into a multifaceted, rich lesson in history and geography.

The time span covered by the exhibit is enormous, from tools that indicate human inhabitation in the Arabian Peninsula more than a million years ago, to art treasures of antiquity unearthed by a railroad worker in the early 1900s. “Arabia” includes Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The exhibit is divided in galleries dealing with “Prehistoric Arabia,” “Incense Roads” (pre-Islamic period), “Pilgrimage Roads” and “Formation of the Kingdom,” displaying possessions of King Abdulaziz (1876–1953), who founded the present-day kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Mysterious stone slabs, monumental human statues, imported blown glass, large tombstones and the intricate gilded doors of the Ka‘ba (Islam’s holiest sanctuary) testify to Arabia’s role as crossroads over millennia, through historical trade routes, the worldwide Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and numerous sacred Islamic sites.

Even with the largest annual gathering of people in the world, more than 2 million pilgrims on the Hajj, the young country (established in 1932) and the 20,000-year-old history of the region remain little known in the West.

Asian Art Museum Director Jay Xu said, “With the world’s recent focus on the region and Hajj pilgrimage in October, ‘Roads of Arabia’ comes to the Bay Area at a perfect time.”

Including many items from the National Museum of Saudi Arabia, the exhibit has an obvious agenda of counteracting a narrow view of the kingdom within the confines of oil, religion (a major bastion of the Sunni branch) and conflict. Other aspects of the region — not political and military matters of news headlines — are widely represented.

High Saudi government officials have been promoting the exhibit, led by Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (and the first royal and Muslim astronaut). His deputy, Ali Al Ghabban, original curator of “Roads of Arabia,” is also visiting The City.

F YOU GO

Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Where: Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., S.F.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, daily, except closed Mondays; show runs through Jan. 18

Tickets: $10 to $15

Contact: (415) 581-3531, www.asianart.org

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