The heart of a na­tion

FOLK TREA­SURES FROM SYRIA

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

Syria’s artists con­tinue to up­hold their artis­tic tra­di­tions de­spite the coun­try’s on­go­ing civil war. Artis­tic Her­itage: Syr­ian Folk Art, open­ing Sun­day, June 4, in Lloyd’s Trea­sure Chest at the Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art, is a sam­pling of some of Syria’s tra­di­tional dress and tex­tiles, along with dec­o­ra­tive and util­i­tar­ian ob­jects. The show is a rare opportunity to see con­tem­po­rary blown-glass pieces from the re­gion that have been newly ac­quired for the mu­seum’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion. On the cover is a de­tail of a chief’s robe from the early 20th cen­tury in Syria, made of silk, cot­ton, and metal­lic threads, a gift of Lloyd Cot­sen, courtesy Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art.

Since 1998, vis­i­tors to the Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art could take a trip down to its col­lec­tion stor­age fa­cil­i­ties and, through a pane of glass, peek into the stacks of the vault that houses part of the col­lec­tion of the late Lloyd Cot­sen (1929-2017), the for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer and pres­i­dent of Neu­tro­gena Cor­po­ra­tion. This in­ter­ac­tive sec­tion of the mu­seum’s Neu­tro­gena Wing, named Lloyd’s Trea­sure Chest af­ter its bene­fac­tor, is de­signed to show how mu­se­ums care for their col­lec­tions, in­clud­ing a be­hind-the-scenes look at how ob­jects are han­dled and stored. “When it opened, we were bound to show 80 per­cent of the Neu­tro­gena col­lec­tion in five years, and so they de­signed this open-stor­age space so you could see a lot more of the col­lec­tion than would nor­mally be on dis­play,” MOIFA di­rec­tor Khris­taan D. Vil­lela said. And while the ren­o­vated Trea­sure Chest re­mains true to Cot­sen’s vision of an open stor­age fa­cil­ity for vis­i­tors to see, since Jan­uary, the mu­seum has been us­ing it to show­case ob­jects that ro­tate out from the col­lec­tion for themed dis­plays. “The past it­er­a­tion of the Trea­sure Chest was more about col­lec­tions man­age­ment, and we changed it some­what to have the fo­cus be on folk art,” said Feli­cia Katz-Har­ris, MOIFA’s cu­ra­tor of Asian and Oceanic folk art.

On Sun­day, June 4, the mu­seum opens a Syr­ian folk art dis­play in Lloyd’s Trea­sure Chest, with a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­pling of var­i­ous his­toric and con­tem­po­rary art forms in­clud­ing tex­tiles, bas­ketry, blown glass, and metal work. The ex­hibit is shown in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum’s show Syria: Cul­tural Pat­ri­mony Un­der Threat, which opens on June 23. MOIFA’s ex­hibit high­lights some of the tra­di­tional Syr­ian arts that may be at risk of be­ing lost in the on­go­ing civil war there, which, ac­cord­ing to the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, has left more that 465,000 peo­ple dead or miss­ing since it be­gan in 2011. The war has re­sulted in a global hu­man­i­tar­ian refugee cri­sis. “It’s not meant to be a full, in­ter­pre­tive ex­hi­bi­tion,” Katz-Har­ris said. “It’s meant to be a trib­ute to Syr­i­ans and Syr­ian cul­ture, and Syr­ian artis­tic her­itage. It’s hard to talk about tra­di­tions

at this point be­cause Syria’s in such con­flict. The sit­u­a­tion is re­ally dire.”

About 70 per­cent of Syr­i­ans are Sunni Mus­lims, a de­nom­i­na­tion of Is­lam. Is­lam tra­di­tion­ally for­bids de­pic­tions of an­i­mals and peo­ple in art, and there is lit­tle rep­re­sen­ta­tional work in the ex­hi­bi­tion. But com­mon dec­o­ra­tive fea­tures like ge­o­metri­cized pat­terns and scrolling, lin­ear arabesques can be seen on in­cluded pieces. Mo­saic and in­laid wood­work is still used in mak­ing trays, fur­ni­ture, and other items in­tended for house­hold use, such as boxes for stor­ing per­sonal items. Some of the boxes on view are disc-shaped and shal­low, with painted geo­met­ric cross de­signs on the lids, pos­si­bly de­rived from Chris­tian iconog­ra­phy. Util­i­tar­ian wares fash­ioned from brass and cop­per are also in­cluded, as are con­tem­po­rary ex­am­ples of blown glass such as or­na­men­tal and util­i­tar­ian lanterns, tea glasses, and de­canters. Blown glass is an art form that helped in­spire the ex­hi­bi­tion. In pre­vi­ous years, the In­ter­na­tional Folk Art Mar­ket has in­cluded works by the Da­m­as­cus-based glass fac­tory be­long­ing to the fam­ily of artist Abu Ahmed, who, through a Parisian dealer, has been able to show work at the an­nual fes­ti­val. Some of the Da­m­as­cus glass has been added to the mu­seum’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion. “It’s a fairly siz­able glass-blow­ing stu­dio,” Vil­lela said of Ahmed’s fac­tory. “Blown glass is a re­ally im­por­tant tra­di­tional art in the Mid­dle East, and we feel re­ally lucky to have ac­quired any­thing com­ing out of Syria right now.”

“The stu­dio is still op­er­at­ing out of Da­m­as­cus,” Katz-Har­ris added. “It’s an in­de­pen­dent work­shop that has been in Da­m­as­cus for many gen­er­a­tions. Da­m­as­cus is one of the en­claves where peo­ple are still able to get on with their lives. The fam­ily doesn’t know ex­actly how long they’ve been in op­er­a­tion.”

Da­m­as­cus was founded in the third mil­len­nium B.C. and is one of the world’s old­est ex­tant cities; it dates to around the time of some of the ear­li­est known ex­am­ples of Me­sopotamian glass. “There’s dif­fer­ent ar­chae­o­log­i­cal the­o­ries as to where glass blow­ing orig­i­nated, whether it was in Egypt or Syria or other places in that re­gion,” Katz-Har­ris said.

The mu­seum’s Neu­tro­gena col­lec­tion is com­posed pre­dom­i­nantly of tex­tiles, but the ex­hibit in­cludes tex­tiles from older col­lec­tions in its hold­ings, as well, in­clud­ing those of MOIFA founder Florence Bartlett, such as a circa-1870 col­or­ful pat­terned robe from Aleppo made of cot­ton and silk, a high­light of the ex­hi­bi­tion. “Her col­lec­tion ranged widely in terms of the types of ob­jects she col­lected and where those ob­jects were from,” Katz-Har­ris said. The con­tem­po­rary works are in­cluded to show how liv­ing tra­di­tions in Syria are con­nected to his­toric art forms. “Ev­ery show we do usu­ally has a com­po­nent of work by liv­ing artists,” Vil­lela said.

de­tails

Artis­tic Her­itage: Syr­ian Folk Art 10 a.m. Sun­day, June 4; ex­hibit through May 28, 2018 Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art, 706 Camino Lejo, 505-476-1200 En­trance by mu­seum ad­mis­sion; www.in­ter­na­tion­al­folkart.org This in­ter­ac­tive sec­tion of the mu­seum’s Neu­tro­gena Wing, named Lloyd’s Trea­sure Chest af­ter its bene­fac­tor, is de­signed to show how mu­se­ums care for their col­lec­tions, in­clud­ing a be­hind-the-scenes look at how ob­jects are han­dled and stored.

Coat, circa 1870, Aleppo, cot­ton, silk, and glass but­tons; top, painted box, circa 1958, wood, paint, and ad­he­sive; all images courtesy Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art

Child’s coat, 19th cen­tury, cot­ton and silk; tif­fin car­rier, Da­m­as­cus, brass

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