In­her­i­tance of loss Syria: Cul­tural Pat­ri­mony Un­der Threat

Syria: Cul­tural Pat­ri­mony Un­der Threat

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum ex­hibit Syria: Cul­tural Pat­ri­mony Un­der Threat fea­tures amaz­ing pho­to­graphs of an­cient build­ings, many of which have been de­stroyed by ISIS in the past few years. The show, which opens on Fri­day, June 23, draws from the col­lec­tions of the Palace of the Gover­nors Photo Archives, high­light­ing images of Syr­ian peo­ple and grand his­toric build­ings with carved stonework that were pho­tographed more than a cen­tury ago. “This col­lec­tion is seven albums con­tain­ing 642 pho­to­graphs from three sur­veys of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites in the Mid­dle East that were car­ried out by Prince­ton Univer­sity be­tween 1899 and 1909,” said cu­ra­tor Daniel Kosharek. “They were part of the Edgar Lee Hewett Col­lec­tion at the Mu­seum of New Mex­ico, and they were trans­ferred here from the Lab­o­ra­tory of An­thro­pol­ogy in 1976.”

Kosharek said part of the im­pe­tus for the ex­hibit was a Novem­ber 2015 Pasatiempo story by Khris­taan D. Vil­lela (“Vi­a­jes pin­torescos y ar­que­ológi­cos: Re­quiem for Palmyra”). “The way that came about is that I knew we had these seven albums, in­clud­ing images of Palmyra. Khris­taan was down here do­ing re­search, and I said it would be in­ter­est­ing to do a story about these pho­tos, many show­ing build­ings that have been de­stroyed by ISIS.” Just since 2015, many of Syria’s most im­por­tant ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites — among them the tem­ples of Bel and Baal­shamin and the Ro­man ru­ins of Palmyra — have been dy­na­mited by mem­bers of the rad­i­cal ISIS fac­tion. “When they started blow­ing those places up and tak­ing stone­cut­ters to the stat­ues, it was heart­break­ing, and I thought we could do a small ex­hibit.

“We will have a big wall case that will have six of the seven albums opened, and ev­ery two or three weeks we will open them to new pages to avoid too much ex­po­sure of light on in­di­vid­ual pho­tos. Then we’re tak­ing three pho­tos and blow­ing them up 33 by 34 inches. One will be Tem­ple of Bel, an­other of ar­chae­ol­o­gists work­ing on a site, and the third a por­trait of a Syr­ian woman.” Kosharek said the pho­to­graphs are all orig­i­nal al­bu­men prints — made on glass-plate neg­a­tives in large-for­mat cam­eras — that date to ex­pe­di­tions led by Prince­ton pro­fes­sor Howard Crosby But­ler.

The ex­hibit in­cludes an ed­u­ca­tional kiosk tar­geted at chil­dren. The kiosk’s panoply of in­for­ma­tion and ac­tiv­i­ties even in­cludes Won­der Woman. “Queen Zeno­bia of Palmyra was the orig­i­nal Won­der Woman, bracelets and all,” said Elana Ha­viv, founder and di­rec­tor of the Gen­er­a­tion Hu­man Rights or­ga­ni­za­tion. “She wanted to have her own em­pire, which was a tol­er­ant and di­verse com­mu­nity, ac­tu­ally.” Ha­viv is work­ing with Heidi McKin­non, founder and di­rec­tor of Cu­ra­tors With­out Bor­ders, on the kiosk. “My job, my chal­lenge,” Ha­viv told Pasatiempo, “was how to make black-and-white pho­tos of an­cient sites that were taken over a hun­dred years ago be ex­cit­ing and tan­gi­ble for Amer­i­can kids. What I did was cre­ate a les­son plan for youth to go through the kiosk with a part­ner, and they will be step­ping into the foot­steps of a child or youth from an­cient me­dieval Syr­ian times. They can see how they dressed, and they get to choose how they want to dress and what they want to eat. They learn about the tem­ples, and they can choose what they want to bring as an of­fer­ing to the Zeus tem­ple.

“The kids learn about Queen Zeno­bia, and they can dis­cuss with their part­ner what hap­pened to her. Did she marry a Ro­man se­na­tor? Did she kill her­self? Was she ex­e­cuted? And an­other part of the ex­hibit is the pho­to­graphs of the As­sas­sins’ cas­tle [Masyaf Cas­tle]. In pop cul­ture, there are video games and a Net­flix se­ries about them to­day. Kids can re­flect on the fact that this was two thou­sand years ago, and look how we use it to­day, and what are we do­ing now that in two thou­sand years might be part of some game?”

The in­side of the room-like kiosk is de­signed to of­fer an in-depth look at an­cient Syria, while the outside sur­faces con­tain in­for­ma­tion about the de­struc­tion of an­cient sites by ISIS and about the cur­rent refugee cri­sis. The Syr­ian civil war, now in its sev­enth year, has cre­ated more than five mil­lion Syr­ian refugees. “What Heidi and Elana are do­ing is hu­man­iz­ing all of this and mak­ing it ac­ces­si­ble,” Kosharek said. “They’re also us­ing some of Tony O’Brien’s pho­to­graphs of a street in a refugee camp and a group of school­child­ren in a class­room in a camp on the kiosk.

At the time he was in Jor­dan in 2013, the refugee camp he pho­tographed was the largest in the world.”

McKin­non said the kiosk — “a his­tory les­son and an ar­chi­tec­ture les­son, with a lit­tle art his­tory, too” — is ac­tu­ally a pro­to­type. She hopes to see sim­i­lar sta­tions put up in refugee set­tle­ments and other emer­gency zones in the fu­ture. “This is just one les­son plan that we’ve done, but the con­cept is ba­si­cally that we’re tak­ing the idea of an itin­er­ant ex­hi­bi­tion space where chil­dren who have no ac­cess to brickand-mor­tar schools can do some kind of self-guided learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The one in the mu­seum isn’t ex­actly what you’d see on the ground, be­cause we will use lo­cal ma­te­ri­als and durable ma­te­ri­als to with­stand sand­storms and rain­storms, and they will be clos­able at night.

“The orig­i­nal con­cept was to get mu­se­ums in­volved in hu­man­i­tar­ian and de­vel­op­ment pro­jects, be­cause mu­seum col­lec­tions are a per­fect means of devel­op­ing cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive learn­ing ma­te­ri­als. The first pro­to­type was go­ing to be with So­mali refugees in Ethiopia, but the famine has be­come acute, and it just wasn’t fea­si­ble. We want to get to the point where we take sev­eral top refugee com­mu­ni­ties and look for mu­seum part­ners with col­lec­tions re­lat­ing to each of those com­mu­ni­ties, be it So­ma­lia, Eritrea, Su­dan, or Afghanistan, and de­velop les­son plans.”

Smaller kiosks could ac­com­mo­date chil­dren learn­ing the al­pha­bet, but larger units might serve en­tire fam­i­lies, ac­cord­ing to McKin­non. “In the camp we were look­ing at in So­ma­lia, 95 per­cent of the peo­ple are non­lit­er­ate and never had for­mal school, be­cause they were no­madic tribes­peo­ple. I fully

We don’t fo­cus on ISIS or the rea­sons the cur­rent war is hap­pen­ing; we fo­cus on the re­sult, which is the refugees. — Elana Ha­viv, di­rec­tor, Gen­er­a­tion Hu­man Rights

ex­pected to have moth­ers and chil­dren and fam­i­lies all try­ing to learn at the same time. Some of the older kids in the Syr­ian com­mu­ni­ties might be much more lit­er­ate, but then there are all the kids who were five or six when the war started and they fled — and now they’re ten or eleven, and they still aren’t lit­er­ate, which would have been highly un­usual in Syria.”

McKin­non talked to Pasatiempo from Panama, where Cu­ra­tors With­out Bor­ders is di­rect­ing ex­hi­bi­tions for the new Mu­seum of Free­dom and Hu­man Rights. She met Ha­viv at a Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts event last year. “I thought, What a small world, that there are two peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in refugee ed­u­ca­tion liv­ing in Santa Fe! Elana has done a lot of work in refugee ed­u­ca­tion in Bos­nia and most re­cently with Syr­ian refugees in Turkey.”

Ha­viv founded Gen­er­a­tion Hu­man Rights in New York in 1998 and has been based in Santa Fe for nearly three years. Her non­profit works with youth “to chart a world free from hu­man-rights abuse and geno­cide through the de­vel­op­ment of mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary cur­ric­ula and cus­tom ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams,” ac­cord­ing to its web­site. One cur­ricu­lum ti­tled “The Refugee” is be­ing used in thousands of class­rooms around the world, she said. The kiosk idea, how­ever, is about self-learn­ing, not teach­ers and class­rooms. “These kiosks will be easy to set up, but it’s very im­por­tant for our team to go to the refugee set­ting or the cri­sis set­ting and meet with the peo­ple. Gen­er­a­tion Hu­man Rights never goes to a place with some­thing we’ve de­signed with­out the peo­ple there. There are no knights on white horses here.” The idea is for the typ­i­cal kiosk to have writ­ten and im­age-based ma­te­ri­als but also dig­i­tal screens with lessons that can be re­motely changed pe­ri­od­i­cally. McKin­non and Ha­viv are work­ing with a D.C. tech com­pany, Dig­i­tal Labs, on the tech­nol­ogy com­po­nent to run the screens via pho­to­voltaic pan­els.

In a dis­cus­sion about the icon­o­clas­tic mo­ti­va­tions of ISIS, Ha­viv said the sites that have been dec­i­mated have ex­isted for thousands of years and have sur­vived many wars. “The most amaz­ing thing is that when new pop­u­la­tions moved in, they never de­stroyed the build­ings. An ex­am­ple is the Tem­ple of Bel, and within it are a church and a mosque, and the Ro­mans and Greeks also had their gods. ISIS is de­stroy­ing them be­cause they held wor­ship to dif­fer­ent gods. The tem­ples in Palmyra were from times when you had a god for your door­knob, hun­dreds of gods. And that’s why they’re de­stroy­ing them, be­cause they be­lieve in only one god.”

But she em­pha­sized, “Ev­ery­thing I do, ev­ery­thing I cre­ate, is to dis­solve the view of the ‘other,’ and for any per­son any age to see the com­mon­al­i­ties we all have. We don’t fo­cus on ISIS or the rea­sons the cur­rent war is hap­pen­ing; we fo­cus on the re­sult, which is the refugees. My brother is pho­to­jour­nal­ist Ron Ha­viv, and he cre­ated a video for class­rooms in Les­bos [the Greek is­land that has seen more than a mil­lion refugees]. I asked him to please in­ter­view young peo­ple com­ing off the rafts and hear their sto­ries and their dreams. We have that, and we have six pho­tos of his from Les­bos on the kiosk.”

An­drew Wulf, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum, called Syria: Cul­tural Pat­ri­mony Un­der Threat “our com­mu­nity’s gift to the Syr­ian peo­ple. Not just in­ter­na­tional refugee com­mu­ni­ties via the repli­ca­ble kiosk pro­to­type in this ex­hi­bi­tion, but also as a wel­come to the Syr­ian refugee com­mu­nity of Al­bu­querque.”

Church in­te­rior, Tafhā, Syria, pho­tographed by Prince­ton Univer­sity team, circa 1899-1910, courtesy Palace of the Gover­nors (NMHM/DCA), Neg­a­tive No. 95891

Kiosk ren­der­ing su­per­im­posed on pho­to­graph of a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, courtesy Cu­ra­tors With­out Bor­ders

A Span­ish vol­un­teer life­guard helps refugees ar­rive on the Greek is­land of Les­bos, photo Ron Ha­viv

Colos­sal head, Kanawât, Syria, pho­tographed by Prince­ton Univer­sity team, circa 1899-1910; courtesy Palace of the Gover­nors (NMHM/DCA), Neg­a­tive No. 95922

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