Museum illustrates Cooper’s lived diversity

“Mahomed Street, Alice Springs” replica sign featured in the museum. Photo: Colin Brace, Brittany Carlson

From humble beginnings around a kitchen table, to finding an ideal location, the diversity in the seat of Cooper is illustrated by one of the youngest museums in Australia.

The battle for Cooper is ‘the battle of Bell Street‘ – between the historically working class parts of the federal electorate (now in the north) and its rapidly gentrifying southern half.

Within the electorate, however, an experiment in curatorship and cultural awareness has slowly simmered for the past five years, bearing testimony to the lived diversity in the inner metropolitan Melbourne seat.

 

Sherene Hassan from the Islamic Museum of Australia

 

Set in the leafy suburb of Thornbury backing onto Merri Creek is the Islamic Museum of Australia.

From the turning of the soil in February 2012 to the official opening by then Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey in February 2014 the museum was always going be an infusion of Islam and its strong connection with Australia.

When you arrive at the museum you are greeted by Arabic calligraphy which is an extract of the Qur’an (“In the Name of Allah the Most Merciful the Most Beneficent”).

Giving a magical lighting effect to the entrance is the rusted curtain made of an iconic Australian material often found in outback Australia amd patterned like an Indigenous dot painting.

With a temporary gallery which hosts exhibitions and five permanent art galleries (one which houses the shortlisted Archibald portrait of presenter Waleed Aly) and with its emphasis on promoting new and established Islamic artists, the museum distinguishes itself from other establishments through its vision of cross-cultural awareness.

It highlights the Muslim history of societies who made contact with pre-1788 Australia including the Makassan people and Malaysian Pearlers, along with the crucial involvement of the Afghan Camelersin developing the country’s infrastructure; in other parts of the space the exhibits explore the importance of different faiths while respecting the five pillars of Islam.

Visitors can even take part in exhibits that show what it’s like to visit Mecca.

The museum’s location in the seat of Cooper puts it right in one of the Federal Election’s key progressive frontlines.

As Labor and the Greens jostle with smaller progressive parties to secure the most votes among Cooper’s population including university students, immigrants, and public housing residents, the IMA continues to play a role in showcasing multiculturalism in the area – and indeed Australia – and contributing to cultural awareness.

During March 2015 a gala dinner was held in Northcote, where funding of close to $2 million was secured from the federal and state governments and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for an online education program and the promotion of mainstream Islam.

A trip to the museum might culminate with a drink at the cafe (well attended by local workers) next to a billabong – which gives reference to Australia whilst paying reference to a wadi setting in place a fusion of Australia and Islamic faith.