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  3. Pop(Corn): UAE National Pavilion
  4. Rapport: Venice
  5. Zeitgeist of our Time: Füsun Onur for the Turkish Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale
  6. GAD’s Top Picks: National Pavilions
  7. Strangers to the Museum Wall: Kehinde Wiley’s Venice Exhibition Speaks of Violence and Portraiture
  8. Questioning Everyday Life: Alluvium by Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian at OGR Torino in Venice

📒 E-Issue 04 ––IST Spring 2022
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  2. What’s On in IST
  3. Pop(Corn): Refik Anadol
  4. Rapport: Istanbul
  5. Independent Spaces in Istanbul: Sarp Özer on Operating AVTO

E-04++ Spring/Summer 2022
Creating an Artist Books Library in Istanbul: Aslı Özdoyuran on BAS
How Pearl Lam Built Her Gallery Between China and Europe
What’s On in the UAE: Our Top Summer Picks
DXB Art Jameel Joins The World Weather Network in a Groundbreaking Response to Global Climate Crisis
DXB “Geometry is Everywhere”: An Interview and Walking Tour of Order of Magnitude, Jitish Kallat’s Solo Exhibition at Dubai’s Ishara Art Foundation
“We Are Witnessing History”: Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian On Their Retrospective Exhibition at NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery
 Istanbul’s 5533 Presents Nazlı Khoshkhabar’s “Around and Round”
HK Startbahn Presents “Made in Japan 3.0: Defining a New Phy-gital Reality”, an NFT Pop-Up at K11 Art Mall
DXB Dubai's Postmodern Architecture: Constructing the Future with 3dr Models
📘 E-Issue 03 –– TYO Fall 2021
  1. Editor’s Note
  2. What’s On in TYO
  3. Pop(Corn): Nimyu
  4. Ahmad The Japanese: Bady Dalloul on Japan and Belonging
  5. Rapport: Tokyo 
  6. Alexandre Taalba Redefines Virtuality at The 5th Floor
  7. Imagining Distant Ecologies in Hypersonic Tokyo: A Review of “Floating Between the Tropical and Glacial Zones”
  8. Ruba Al-Sweel Curates “Garden of e-arthly Delights” at SUMAC Space
  9. Salwa Mikdadi Reflects on the Opening of NYU Abu Dhabi’s Arab Center for the Study of Art

E-03++ Fall/Winter 2021-22
Art Dubai Digital, An Alternative Art World?
Must-See Exhibitions in Dubai - Art Week Edition 2022
Prepare The Ingredients and Let The Rest Flow: Miramar and Zaid’s “Pure Data” Premieres at Satellite for Quoz Arts Fest 2022
 Akira Takayama on McDonald’s Radio University, Heterotopia, and Wagner Project
AUH Woman as a Noun, and a Practice: “As We Gaze Upon Her” at Warehouse421
AAN The Labor of Art and the Art of Labor: Christopher Benton on His First Exhibition in Al Ain
IST “Once Upon a Time Inconceivable”: A Review and a Conversation
RUH Misk Art Institute’s Annual Flagship Exhibition Explores the Universality of Identity
RUH HH Prince Fahad Al Saud Discusses Saudi Arabia’s Artistic Renaissance
Engage101 Presents “Connected, Collected” at Sotheby’s Dubai

📕 E-Issue 02
NYC Spring 2021
  1. Editor’s Note
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  3. Pop(Corn): Zeid Jaouni
  4. You Can Take The Girl Out Of The City 
  5. Rapport: NYC
  6. Kindergarten Records Discuss The Future of Electronic Music
  7. Sole DXB Brings NY Hip-Hop To Abu Dhabi
  8. Wei Han Finds ‘Home’ In New York
  9. Vikram Divecha: Encounters and Negotiations

E-02++ Spring/Summer 2021
DXB “After The Beep”: A Review and Some Reflections
OSA Rintaro Fuse Curates “Silent Category” at Creative Center Osaka
AUH “Total Landscaping”at Warehouse 421
TYO “Mimicry of Hollows” Opens at The 5th Floor
TYO Startbahn, Japan’s Leading Art Blockchain Company, Builds a New Art Infrastructure for the Digital Age
DXB There Is A You In The Cloud You Can’t Delete: A Review of “Age of You” at Jameel Arts Centre
BAH Mihrab: Mysticism, Devotion, and Geo-Identity
LDN Fulfilment Services Ltd. Questions Techno-Capitalism on Billboards in London
DXB Ana Escobar: Objects Revisited
TYO BIEN Opens Two Solo Exhibitions in Island Japan and Parcel
CTU/AUH/YYZ Sabrina Zhao: Between Abu Dhabi, Sichuan, and Toronto
RUH Noor Riyadh Shines Light on Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Art Strategy
DXB A Riot Towards Landscapes
DXB A ‘Menu Poem’ and All That Follows
DXB Alserkal Art Week Top Picks 
DXB Permeability and Regional Nodes: Sohrab Hura on Curating Growing Like a Tree at Ishara Art Foundation
AUH Re-viewing Contrasts: Hyphenated Spaces at Warehouse421
DXB There’s a Hurricane at the Foundry

📙 E-Issue 01 –– AUH/DXB Summer 2020 
  1. Editor’s Note 
  2. What’s On in the UAE
  3. Pop(Corn): Hashel Al Lamki
  4. Tailoring in Abu Dhabi
  5. Rapport: Dubai 
  6. Michael Rakowitz From the Diaspora

E-01++ Fall/Winter 2020-21
GRV MIA Anywhere Hosts First Virtual Exhibition of Female Chechen Artists    
DXB Sa Tahanan Collective Redefines Home for Filipino Artists
SHJ Sharjah Art Foundation Jets Ahead on the Flying Saucer
AUH SEAF Cohort 7 at Warehouse 421 
DXB 101 Strikes Again with Second Sale at Alserkal Avenue
DXB Spotlight on Dubai Design Week 2020
DXB Melehi’s Waves Complicate Waving Goodbye
DXB Kanye Says Listen to the Kids: Youth Takeover at Jameel Arts Centre
DAM Investigating the Catalogues of the National Museum of Damascus
AUH Ogamdo: Crossing a Cultural Highway between Korea and the UAE
TYO James Jarvis Presents Latest Collages at 3110NZ
DXB Do You See Me How I See You?
DXB Thaely Kicks Off Sustainable Sneakers
AUH BAIT 15 Welcomes New Member Zuhoor Al Sayegh
MIA a_part Gives Artists 36 Hours to React

UAE Tawahadna Introduces MENA Artists to a Global Community
LHR/CAI Alaa Hindia’s Jewelry Revives Egyptian Nostalgia
DXB Taaboogah Infuses Comedy Into Khaleeji Menswear
DXB Meet Tamila Kochkarova Behind ‘No Boys Allowed’
DXB Alserkal Arts Foundation Presents Mohamed Melehi
AUH/DXB 101 Pioneers Ethical and Curious Art Collecting
AUH Sarah Almehairi Initiates Conversations
DXB Augustine Paredes Taking Up Space
LHR/MCT Hanan Sultan Rhymes Frankincense with Minimalism
BEY GAD Map: Arts & Culture Relief for Beirut

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🎙️ GAD Talk Series –– Season 1 2020
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Investigating the Catalogues of the National Museum of Damascus

By Sophie Arni

Published on October 28, 2020

        Published on the occasion of the centennial of the foundation of the Damascus National Museum (1919-2019), Prefaces to a Book for a Syrian Museum is a collection of prefaces of the museum’s catalogues spanning eighty years of its curatorial history. Edited by Mathilde Ayoub, curator and researcher at the Institut National du Patrimoine, with contributions from Michel Al-Maqdissi and Salam Kawakibi, Prefaces was published by Zamân Books & Curating in a trilingual edition (French, English and Arabic) earlier this month, and is the product of years of in-depth research and archival labor.

The Damascus National Museum temporary closed from 2012 to 2018 as a result of the ongoing Syrian civil war. Yet the museum boasts one of the most significant archaeological collections in the world, and has served many roles for the Damascene art scene throughout its century-long history. Prefaces draws subtle conclusions about the museum’s role as a vessel for the transmission of cultural heritage and tradition amidst Syria’s turbulent modern history.

Prefaces highlights the importance of museum catalogues towards the formulation of a research agenda. Described as a “re-edited palimpsest,” Prefaces presents the museum’s history through annotated prefaces and archival documents. It documents the different incarnations of the museum across the numerous political regimes and shifts which have marked modern Syrian history.

Described as a “re-edited palimpsest,” Prefaces presents the museum’s history through annotated prefaces and archival documents.

Presented in chronological order, the various featured prefaces offer readers the opportunity to discern the different periods marking the museum’s shifts in curatorial perspectives across the decades since its inception. The idea of compilation and collection, to be sure, is central to the curatorial vocation. However, applying this systematic approach to the prefaces of museum catalogues is a heretofore unexplored endeavor.

The idea of compilation and collection, to be sure, is central to the curatorial vocation. However, applying this systematic approach to the prefaces of museum catalogues is a heretofore unexplored endeavor.

Ayoub first discovered the existence of the museum’s catalogue from an edition published in 1969 in a flea market in Buenos Aires. This prompted her to start researching available prefaces from all previously published catalogues, much like a curatorial exercise of exhibition-making. She accessed prefaces dating from 1919, the date of museum’s foundation, to 2019, and compiled them under this book-collection. Ayoub views each preface as “evidence,” or “exhibits” from which she subtly crafts an overall narrative for the museum’s century-long history. “How does the history of a museum emerge from texts that it itself produced?” she asks.

“How does the history of a museum emerge from texts that it itself produced?”

- Mathilde Ayoub

“This book project started as a quest, but quickly became a full-on investigation.” Ayoub started to collect seemingly minor traces of the museum’s history, such as postcards and stamps. Through these exhibits, she could trace a richer vision of the museum’s evolution through the decades, one that more closely reflected the museum’s impact on its Damascene audience.

“The catalogues have left traces behind,” explains Ayoub. The one-to-two pages prefaces are short and standardized, which allows for detailed comparisons and analyses. “We can discern variations between the prefaces, an evolution in the curatorial speech.”

“Before Syrian independence, we can sense a “civilizational” necessity for the museum and the archeological artifacts it hosts. After the 1950s, the museum served more as a bridge between the Syrian population and their shared cultural heritage. The preface published in 1969, after the 1967 war, suggests the museum shifted towards a protectionist role, one of an educator for the postwar generation. The following prefaces have a more official, institutional tone, with an emphasis on showing cultural activity throughout Syria and not just in the capital.”

“This book project started as a quest, but quickly became a full-on investigation.”

- Mathilde Ayoub

The totality of the archive includes overlapping thematic elements. To begin with, as one might expect, a common theme includes the glorification of Syrian history and Syrian heritage. But some ideas put forward in the prefaces are much more nuanced and relevant to today’s context.

Ayoub describes a strong anti-colonial sentiment found in-between the lines of the prefaces. The museum’s leadership was indeed trying to distance itself from the French mandate, and this continued to reverberate even after Syria’s independence. There is a certain reticence from the museum’s chief curators towards the French mandate, an example of which is the publication of the first museum catalogue in 1931, which, incidentally named the museum the “first museum of a state under mandate” when in fact the mandate had been declared a full 11 years earlier in 1920.

There is also the ever-relevant question of repatriation. The museum’s catalogue prefaces throughout the past century have repeatedly dealt with the issues of looted Syrian heritage. “This issue is still facing the museum to this day,” describes Ayoub. An additional theme is the notable omission of any mention of the museum’s modern art collections which documents Syria’s journey towards independence and its arrival at its contemporary situation. 

The museum occupies a special position in the nascent Syrian national consciousness for many reasons. Certainly not least among them is the support the museum gave to Damascene artistic community. “The museum does not just comprise of exhibition halls,” Ayoub explains. It had a library and a large conference room welcoming concerts and poetry recitals. In 1971, the “Congrès de Damas” was held in that same room, which gave rise to the Union of Panarab Artists. The efforts of the museum to engage younger generations of artists and create cross-generational dialogues was also felt with the collaboration with Fares Helou, Syrian actor, who invited many regional and international artist to exhibit in the museum gardens.

Even though the National Museum of Damascus reopened in 2018, its future remains uncertain. Ayoub shares that this book does not have “any oracle value” for the future of the museum. But she also shares more about the critical role of the institution in protecting Syrian heritage. “We have to draw attention to the critical state of Syrian cultural heritage, without attracting bad faith. Many important antiquities from Palmyra are currently under restoration inside the museum.” 

“We have to draw attention to the critical state of Syrian cultural heritage, without attracting bad faith.”

One cannot help but ask what kind of Syria will emerge from the rubble of its more recent history and how the museum will, in exercising its vocation of archiving Syria’s history, propose the tentative prospect of a future.

Prefaces to a Book for a Syrian Museum
Edited by Mathilde Ayoub
Texts by Mathilde Ayoub, Michel Al-Maqdissi, Salam Kawakibi
Graphic design by Tom&Delhia
Photographs: Maxime Leyvastre
All images are courtesy of Zaman Books & Curating

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Trilingual edition: French, Arabic, English, 24,00€⁠

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