An­tiq­ui­ties min­gling with mod­ernism

Co-founder of Nabu Mu­seum on his pri­vate col­lec­tions, de­sign­ing space and fu­ture plans

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - ARTS & CULTURE - IN­TER­VIEW By Maghie Ghali For more info, see nabu­mu­

BEIRUT: Perched on a beach­front in El-Heri, Ras alChekka, stands the newly built two-floor Nabu Mu­seum, a cube-shaped steel-and-glass struc­ture that is now home to hun­dreds of re­gional an­tiq­ui­ties and mod­ern art­works.

The mu­seum is named af­ter the Me­sopotamian god of wis­dom.

It seeks to ex­hibit the cul­tural wealth of Le­banon and the re­gion, which means the pri­vate col­lec­tions of its founders – Jawad Adra, Badr el-Hage and Fida Jdeed.

“The Nabu Mu­seum was cre­ated out of a need to cre­ate some­thing for the com­mu­nity and the re­gion,” Adra told The Daily Star.

“Bader el-Hage, Fida Jdeed and I have been friends for many years.

“We all share a pas­sion for his­tory, art and cul­ture.

“The project im­parts a shared per­spec­tive of what is a rigid cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal tra­di­tion, the im­por­tance of arts and cul­ture and the role of moder­nity in the re­gion.”

Jdeed, Hage and Adra say land pur­chase, de­sign and erec­tion of their mu­seum cost $7 mil­lion.

The worth of their col­lec­tions was not dis­cussed.

Adra sees him­self as a cus­to­dian of the arts, rather than a col­lec­tor.

His per­sonal col­lec­tion in­cludes 2000 pieces from the Le­vant and Me­sopotamian re­gion, part of which makes up the mu­seum’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of early Bronze and Iron age ar­ti­facts, an­tiq­ui­ties from the Ro­man, Greek, Byzan­tine and Mus­lim epochs, rare manuscripts and ethno­graphic ma­te­rial.

“I have been ac­quir­ing art­works and ar­ti­facts for over three decades now,” he said. “My col­lec­tion is ac­quired from var­i­ous sources.

“Some­times it is the artists them­selves, a gallery or auc­tion. It re­ally de­pends on when and how I en­counter the art­work or ar­ti­fact.”

The mu­seum’s de­sign is at­trib­uted to Iraqi artists Dia Az­zawi and Mah­moud Obeidi, who were com­mis­sioned to com­plete the ar­chi­tec­tural con­cept.

“The build­ing has a rec­og­niz­able shape of a rec­tan­gu­lar cuboid, with its struc­tural clar­ity and in­her­ent re­la­tion­ship to ge­om­e­try and no­tions of per­fec­tion,” Adra re­marked, say­ing these forms were in­formed by Az­zawi’s in­ter­est in cal­lig­ra­phy as ab­stract semi­otic el­e­ments.

“[They] de­cided to use weath­ered steel to cre­ate the fa­cade of the build­ing,” he added, “which has a con­nec­tion to the sea, as it changes color with hu­mid­ity.

“The fi­nal choice of ma­te­rial has a po­etic and prac­ti­cal mean­ing as it be­comes the build­ing’s form, shape and color at once.”

Cu­rated by Pas­cal Odille, the mu­seum’s first ex­hi­bi­tion, “Mil­len­nia of Cre­ativ­ity,” sets 60 mod­ern art­works among around 400 ar­chae­o­log­i­cal pieces from the MENA re­gion.

Adra says the show aims to com­pare the styles of an­cient Mediter­ranean artis­tic pro­duc­tion with those of more re­cent artis­tic prac­tices.

High­lights on show in­clude a se­lec­tion of Sume­rian and Baby­lo­nian cu­nei­form tablets and Phoeni­cian ste­les dat­ing from 2330 to 540 B.C. that re­count epic tales.

A vo­tive Ro­man stat­uette rep­re­sent­ing Aphrodite and Eros and a Ro­man blown-glass carafe in the shape of a bunch of grapes, sits

‘The idea was to cre­ate a space which would be de­cen­tral­ized from Beirut’

across from a col­lec­tion of works by Le­banese painter Sal­iba Douaihy, cov­er­ing all phases from the early thir­ties until his death in 1994.

“There are many im­por­tant works exhibited in this ex­hi­bi­tion, from a bronze cal­co­phone [an an­cient mu­si­cal in­stru­ment],” Adra said, “to a [1979] paint­ing by Shaker Has­san al-Said en­ti­tled ‘Ji­dar Min al Qu­nayti­rah No. 1,’ done with oil and spray paint and burn­ing ef­fects on board.”

The founders in­tend to hold two to three ex­hi­bi­tions yearly, draw­ing upon their own col­lec­tion, and col­lab­o­rat­ing with those of other mu­se­ums and col­lec­tors.

“We in­tend to col­lab­o­rate with firstly the Na­tional Mu­seum, AUB Mu­seum, the Dam­as­cus Mu­seum and Bagh­dad Mu­seum,” Adra ex­plained – “and of course mu­se­ums from Europe and North Amer­ica.

“We will have dif­fer­ent cu­ra­tors for each ex­hi­bi­tion.”

The mu­seum also houses a li­brary with books on art, arche­ol­ogy, his­tory, and a col­lec­tion of rare manuscripts. There are also res­i­dency spa­ces which can house three to six artists at a time, of­fer­ing fa­cil­i­ties to com­plete projects.

The next step, Adra says, is to cre­ate a pub­lic pro­gram with talks and tours, as well as an ed­u­ca­tional out­reach pro­gram for schools and uni­ver­si­ties.

While the trip to El-Heri might re­quire some for­ward plan­ning, Adra sees the re­mote lo­ca­tion as a ben­e­fit. “Re­mote is a rel­a­tive term be­cause we do not have pub­lic trans­port in Le­banon.”

“The idea was to cre­ate a space which would be de­cen­tral­ized from Beirut,” he said.

“The north of Le­banon, just like other so-called re­mote re­gions, lacks cul­tural spa­ces which will serve a com­mu­nal and so­ci­etal role.

“Ul­ti­mately we aim to pro­vide an en­vi­ron­ment in which the pub­lic can ex­plore the past, un­der­stand the present and play a role in shap­ing the fu­ture.”

Stat­uette of Aphrodite and Eros, Bronze. Ro­man pe­riod, first to sec­ond cen­tury A.D.

A pitcher-shaped pen­dent, third to fourth cen­tury A.D.

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