Bea­con of hope

Mod­ern art, an­tiques on show at Lebanon cube mu­seum

Global Times - - Front Page -

At a new pri­vate mu­seum in Lebanon, a con­tem­po­rary sculp­ture of a mor­tar mis­sile is dis­played along­side mil­lenia-old stat­ues re­trieved from the bot­tom of the sea.

Named after the Me­sopotamian god of wis­dom, the Nabu Mu­seum opened in late Septem­ber to show­case the cul­tural wealth of an an­cient re­gion dev­as­tated by con­flict.

Its in­au­gu­ral ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes 60 con­tem­po­rary works, as well as around 400 an­tiq­ui­ties from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Ye­men.

“We have a more or less com­plete pic­ture of what was once the cra­dle of civ­i­liza­tion,” says French cu­ra­tor Pas­cal Odille.

Next to a pri­vate beach in the vil­lage of El-Heri in Lebanon’s north, the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion sits in an im­pres­sive fu­tur­is­tic cube of steel, coated with a rusty or­ange patina.

A tall glass open­ing in the metal and con­crete struc­ture pro­vides a view straight through the mu­seum’s in­te­rior and out to the sea.

De­signed by Iraqi artists, the mu­seum for the first time opens up the pri­vate art and an­tiq­ui­ties col­lec­tions of wealthy busi­ness­men to the pub­lic for free.

Drawn from the homes and ware­houses of its pa­trons, the ex­hibits are dis­played on two floors, flood­lit by the sun­light stream­ing through the tall win­dows.

There are “ushabti” from an­cient Egypt, finely carved turquoise fig­urines tra­di­tion­ally placed in coffins to en­sure pas­sage to the af­ter­life.

Nearby, a con­tem­po­rary sculp­ture of a mor­tar mis­sile by Le­banese artist Katya Traboulsi is adorned with hi­ero­glyphs.

The art­work is topped by a sculpted bust of the an­cient Egyp­tian god of the sky, Horus, in­stead of a war­head.

Wis­dom not war

Vis­i­tors can see Le­banese artist Sal­iba Douaihy’s ab­stract land­scape paint­ings, one largely red, the other bright blue.

But they can also ad­mire ter­ra­cotta stat­ues hark­ing back to the Phoeni­cian pe­riod found dur­ing marine ex­ca­va­tions off the south­ern coast of Lebanon.

“You can see the seashell and limescale de­posits on them,” says Odille, of the fig­ures from the sixth or sev­enth cen­tury BC.

The mu­seum’s founders – two Le­banese and a Syr­ian – want it to be a bea­con of hope in a re­gion that has been scarred by con­flict and the bru­tal­ity of jihadists.

“Nabu is the god of writ­ing and wis­dom. Not the god of war,” says Le­banese co-founder Jawad Adra.

“We’re a ray of op­ti­mism in this re­gion, amid all this ob­scu­rity,” says the 64-year-old, whose col­or­ful, mod­ern-art in­spired tie con­trasts with his gray suit. The project cost $7 mil­lion, the or­ga­niz­ers say. But the works on show only rep­re­sent a frac­tion of its founders’ pri­vate col­lec­tions, and there are plans to switch the ex­hibits ev­ery few months. Adra’s per­sonal col­lec­tion in­cludes 2,000 items from the Le­vant and Me­sopotamia re­gions, ac­cord­ing to the ex­hi­bi­tion’s cat­a­logue. The busi­ness­man says his hobby dates back to his child­hood. “I’ve been col­lect­ing stamps and coins since I was 10,” says Adra, who now heads a Beirut­based polling com­pany and owns qual­ity con­trol labs in the Gulf. He says it is time to give back. To set up the mu­seum, he banded to­gether with Syr­ian busi­ness part­ner Fida Jdeed, and fel­low Le­banese en­tre­pre­neur Badr El-Hage, who runs a rare book firm in Lon­don. ‘Pay­back’

“We’ve all reached an age where we’re start­ing to ask our­selves, ‘What have you done? What have you given your coun­try?’” he says.

In re­cent years, part of the re­gion’s cul­tural her­itage has been dam­aged, de­stroyed or looted by armed groups in­clud­ing jihadists.

The Is­lamic State group in par­tic­u­lar swept across large parts of Syria and neigh­bor­ing Iraq in 2014, wreck­ing count­less his­tor­i­cal sites in ter­ri­tory it con­trolled.

Mah­mud Al-Obaidi, who de­signed the mu­seum build­ing with fel­low Iraqi artist Dia Az­zawi, sees the project as com­pen­sa­tion for years of loss.

“I feel this place is pay­back for ev­ery­thing that has been de­stroyed,” says the 53-year-old, who left Iraq in 1991 for Canada.

With gov­ern­ments in the re­gion busy bat­tling trou­bled economies and poverty, per­sonal ini­tia­tives are key to pre­serv­ing cul­ture, he says.

Pass­ing civ­i­liza­tions live on in their art, Obaidi says.

Photo: VCG

A vis­i­tor looks at a 1st-2nd cen­tury Ro­man era stat­uette of Aphrodite on dis­play at the Nabu Mu­seum in Lebanon on Septem­ber 27.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.