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VII Contributing Photographers Tomas van Houtryve and Zijah Gafic have recently had unprecedented access to two of the most iconic religious structures in the world. On assignment for National Geographic Magazine they photographed the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral.

Ziyah Gafic obtained very rare access to the Dome of the Rock, which may be the most contested building anywhere and, since 1844, one of the most photographed and recognisable. Even the publication of Gafic’s photo essay was politically fraught, with almost all local language editions of National Geographic using a photograph of the mosque on their cover except the Israeli, Arab, and Chinese editions.

The Dome of the Rock is one of the world’s oldest surviving examples of Islamic architecture and is of quintessential importance to Abrahamic religions.

The Dome has great significance for Muslims who believe that the Night Journey of the prophet Muhammad began from the rock at the center of the structure. According to Jewish tradition, the Dome is situated on top of the Jewish Temple Mount, whose Western (or Wailing) Wall is the place Jews turn towards during prayer. The French Knights Templar desecrated it, turning the mosque into a church and a horse stable and making it their headquarters. Centuries later, Jordanian King Abdullah was assassinated there. On September 28th 2000, surrounded by squads of Israeli riot police and escorted by a handful of legislators, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon marched up to the Dome of the Rock to assert Israeli sovereignty and returned 45 minutes later, leaving a trail of havoc behind him which triggered the second intifada. Today, it remains both a place of worship and a political lightning rod between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Muslim world.

Thomas Van Houtryve is one of only three photographers with access to document the reconstruction of Notre Dame after the fire that destroyed its roof in 2019. He has since photographed the renovation of this instantly recognisable building, also one of the most photographed buildings in the world. Louis Daguerre, one of the earliest practitioners of the nascent medium, first photographed it in 1838 or 1839. Notre Dame has a presence in French cultural and political life that reaches far beyond faith and exceeds that of any other structure in the country. It is a symbol of the French nation and of Paris. Throughout its history, it has been the stage for theatrical political statements and expressions of divine-human authority: the Paris Commune stripped it, melted down its precious metals, and took ownership of it; Napoleon crowned himself emperor there in 1804 and returned it to the Catholic Church; and General Charles De Gaulle was driven in an open-top car in a triumphal procession to a mass at the cathedral to unite the French at the end of WWII while fighting continued in Paris.

Notre Dame sits at 48.8534°N 2.3488°E, which is “point zero” in France, and the place where every measurement to or from Paris is taken, situating the city and the cathedral at the exact centre of French political geography.

‘Monumental’ is an exhibition that allows us to discuss national identity, politics, social cohesion, division, colonisation and political violence through the presence and symbolism of two monumental religious buildings whose presence extends far beyond the confines of faith.

Exhibition opening: Friday, April 26 at 6:00 p.m

Place: National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina

The exhibition is part of the 29th edition of the cultural program "Memory Module"