Walters’ Landau Hopes to Bridge Cultural, Religious Gaps through Art

Credit: Walters Art Museum
Amy Landau (Walters Art Museum)

Amy Landau, who has previously operated as the Walters Art Museum’s  associate curator of Islamic and South Asian art, has been promoted to the 8-decades-old  facility’s director of curatorial affairs.

Landau will concurrently act as Walters’ curator of Islamic and South and Southeast Asian art, guiding a recently created team that includes fellow curators, interns and registrars. She will additionally be responsible for “approximately 2,500 objects, including 1,500 works of art in the Islamic collection,” according to the announcement of her promotion made public on Monday, Dec. 5.

A self-identifying Jew, Landau was raised Conservative and attended a bicultural school for the first few years of her  elementary school tenure, with instruction in both Hebrew and English.

After sixth grade, Landau transferred to a standard public school in her hometown of Stanford, Conn., but nevertheless sees her work today as being “based on that Jewish education.” Indeed, one of Landau’s aspirations while at the Walters is to augment its steadily  growing collection of Judaic artwork and antiquities.

Landau moved to Baltimore eight years ago this August and began working at the Walters shortly thereafter. She was first tasked with cataloguing Armenian and Islamic manuscripts in the museum’s department of rare books as part of fulfilling a National Endowment of  Humanities preservation and access grant.

“I was absolutely thrilled to get the position at the Walters,” Landau said. “They have a stellar collection, an encyclopedic collection, and they are strong in the areas I was trained in.”

Landau received both her masters and Ph.D. in Islamic art and archaeology from the University of Oxford. She attended NYU for her undergraduate studies, which included a focus on Hebrew.

“I was very interested in Middle Eastern politics,” Landau said about her time at NYU in the late ’90s. Then, as with now, Landau was “very interested in how people view one another and how art can be used as a platform to mediate different perspectives and opinions.”

The drive to better understanding an eclectic range of viewpoints led Landau to spend one of her undergraduate summers in Tel Aviv, working for Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) and teaching English in the Arab town of Tayiba in central Israel.

Such life experience and further time spent in Europe narrowed Landau’s interest to how the East viewed the West, with particular concentration on “the relationship between Iran and Europe and America, and also the Iranian Jewish community on a historical level.”

Landau’s goal is to utilize her unique Judaic/Islamic/Asian art background in working with her staff at the museum as well as area religious/cultural leaders.

In so doing, she’s looking to impart her philosophy that art can be a peaceful and thoughtful means of communication  between groups that may have conflicting worldviews but can equally enjoy the creative expression of, say, a beautiful piece of antiquity.

“My hope is to underscore pluralism in terms of ideas, religion and languages at the  museum, because it’s clearly a sensitive time and an important time for the public to engage with history,” Landau said.

As one of 12 curators handpicked from a national pool by the Center for Curatorial Leadership to be named a 2017 fellow, Landau will also continue working with prominent representatives of religious and cultural organizations outside of Baltimore and Maryland.

Her curated exhibition “Pearls on a String” (fall 2015) traveled as far as the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, with whom she partnered in organizing the show.

The mission of this exhibition was, in Landau’s words, a method to “broaden public engagement with the cultural histories of Muslim societies by demonstrating how human imagination and collaboration can ignite extraordinary artistic creativity.”

Such work is Landau’s “shtick,” as she put it, elaborating that she believes “we don’t talk about religion enough in the museum setting. I think we could do that more and could use the opportunity in exhibiting works of art to do so.

“We have religion in our [news]papers every day. Religion is a sensitive topic, as is race, and I believe that artwork could play a role in delivering information about religion so people can understand more and see different viewpoints even within one religion itself.”


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