Archief voor mei, 2016

Heritage professionals across borders – Introduction

Geplaatst op: 20 mei 2016 door salondemuseologie in Uncategorized
Salon de Muséologie / Erfgoedarena, 12 May 2016 
Introduction by Paul Ariese
Photo: Wessel de Groot

Good evening. My name is Paul Ariese, I’m lecturer at the Reinwardt Academy and member of the board of the Salon de Muséologie. On behalf of the Salon and the Erfgoedarena – Reinwardt, I warmly welcome you to this meeting. I have a few words to share with you as an introduction.

It’s twelve years ago now that I stayed for a couple of months in the Middle East’s poorest country, Yemen. One day, I came unannounced at the main gate of the National Museum in the capital Sana’a. Although the museum appeared to be closed due to renovations, the guard opened the door immediately when I explained that I had links with the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. The director and staff gave me two hours of their time, we drank tea and I was offered a private tour through the museum.

Right now, ladies and gentlemen, these colleagues are under attack. (…) Deathly international coalitions literally tear place and people apart, destroy the Old City of Sana’a – a World Heritage Site – close to the museum. And who cares?

Last November I gave training to museum staff from Afghanistan. They told me about the loss of the majority of their collections due to violence and looting. They testified of life threatening situations they repeatedly encountered. I wonder, and I’m unable to come to grip with it, what is left for a heritage professional when bombs even crush the fragments to dust? Here lies the incentive to initiate this meeting.

Tonight we welcome heritage and museum professionals with a refugee background. Dear colleagues from Syria, Eritrea, and other places: Good to see you here at the Reinwardt Academy.

Over the last months, we got in touch with you via different channels. We want to express our special thanks to VluchtelingenWerk Nederland and to Joost van der Hel from Refugee Start Force for kindly helping us in this regard.

Different parties have cooperated in organizing this meeting. As you may not be familiar with the one or the other, let me briefly explain who they are. The Salon de Muséologie, in the first place, is an informal group of museum workers, which organizes network meetings on a monthly basis. Usually these take place at ARCAM, at the Oosterdok, not far from here.

Secondly the Reinwardt Academy, which is the cultural heritage faculty of the Amsterdam University of the Arts. Seven times a year, the Reinwardt Academy hosts the Erfgoedarena, where hot topics in the heritage field are discussed. Both, the Salon and the Erfgoedarena are aimed at a broad audience, free for all to participate.

For tonight, the Salon and the Erfgoedarena – Reinwardt Academy join forces. We decided to do so because we consider the topic of this event to have relevancy for both of our networks.

What shall we discuss tonight? Over the last years, we have seen many images of endangered heritage in the Middle-East, in North-Africa and other places. We see monuments, tombs, cloisters, temples etc being threatened and destroyed, although I fear that most of what happens takes place outside our field of view. However, the impact of this all on people and communities linked to these sites is even more underexposed. We have come to realize that as part of the drama that continues to develop, many colleagues risk their lives, or even loose their lives, while they perform their jobs as museum staff members, archaeologists, researchers etc.

In the Reinwardt Academy’s international programs and also in other capacities, we have come to know many heritage professionals worldwide. Time and again we receive a warm and amicable welcome. Tonight we create an opportunity to return the favour. While the endangered sites are out of our reach, we are here tonight to encounter people associated with these places. And so we meet, not as groups from different sites, but as colleagues who have stories to share across borders. These stories tell us about treatments of heritage sites that are considered by some to represent universal values – which may sometimes be the precise reason why they are under attack. What these sites are, what fate they are undergoing and how to react – these are topics that we feel deserve to be discussed in the international setting in which we gather tonight.

Conversely, also the heritage sites in our own Low Countries deserve better than a “Dutch treat”. In an increasingly global world, what we need is a multitude of different perspectives and an open conversation in order for all to become co-owners.

Our focus tonight is on people, because we think that is where it all starts. We distance ourselves from blind opinions and quick peeks. Instead, we look for the sparkle in each other’s eyes. With this meeting on ‘heritage professionals across borders’, we aim to have a meaningful conversation with all of you about the values and intentions on which we base our various professional practices.

Though we are all in some way linked to the heritage and museum field, operating in different contexts may mean that different approaches are being applied and valued. We look forward now to discovering what we share, and we want to learn from each other regarding the things in which we may differ. I invite all, whether you are student or senior, director or debutant, to contribute tonight.

Most of all I hope the encounter of tonight will be continued, and will result in lasting relationships among you.

Marjelle van Hoorn on behalf of the Salon, and Riemer Knoop on behalf of the Erfgoedarena & Reinwardt Academy, will act as moderators of the discussion. I thank you all for your attention.


Heritage professionals across borders – Report

Geplaatst op: 20 mei 2016 door salondemuseologie in Uncategorized
Report Salon de Museologie / Erfgoedarena, 12 May 2016
Author: Marit van Dijk

Photo: Wessel de Groot

On May 12, a special collaboration took place in the Reinwardt lecture hall. The Salon de Museology and the Heritage Arena combined to discuss the current heritage situation in Syria. Six Syrian and one Eritrean museum professional shared their stories with a broad audience. This fascinating evening focused on the future of heritage under siege, universal values and the multitude of different perspectives that are entangled with this future. In addition, the issue of global heritage and co-ownership were noteworthy items.


Cradle of humanity 

Eritrean Dawit Tesfay is the first speaker of the evening. He worked as an archaeological curator in one of the two Eritrean museums, specialized in the palaeohistory the African Rift Valley. It is believed that this area was the route out of Africa that was used by early humans to colonize the rest of the old world, the first known homo erectus culture. The Eritrean land is crucial for our understanding of pre-Roman culture. The next presenter, Adhan Al-Hamwi from Damascus, explains that Syria, as the cradle of all monotheistic religions, contributed much to European culture. Syria harbors the Fertile Crescent, that part of the world where agriculture and cattle breeding first appeared in the Neolithic. Since then people have lived in Syria, so there is a very long cultural history indeed. Most European heritage leads directly or indirectly back to Syria.

The power of destruction

Hossam Alqalqeely, also from Syria, explains about the different parties involved in the war in his home country. Firstly, there is Assad’s army, which safeguards the heritage, but in a very selective way. And by protecting Syria’s heritage openly, Assad unwillingly made it a target for his enemies. Secondly, there is Isis or Daesh, who wants to destroy Syrian heritage. The focus of the third major party, the rebels, is not on heritage. They are not deliberately destroying it, but they have no interest in protecting it either. Finally, as in every war, the citizens are the most vulnerable group. Alqalqeely claims that in this war, by destroying Syrian heritage, more is destroyed than just the heritage itself. People aren’t able to live their lives and therefore the culture of everyday life vanishes as well. After the war, Alqalqeely asks, what will be left of this contemporary culture? For now, he adds, we can’t do anything.

The next guest is Dr. Ghazwan Yaghi, a Syrian archaeologist focusing on Islamic archaeology, architecture and art. He tells about how damaging Syrian heritage became a critical part of the Syrian war crisis. Daesh profits from looting ancient objects and antiquities, by selling them to people from outside Syria. Furthermore, Daesh (fighting against both the rebels and Assad) tries to eliminate all heritage and culture that is not according to its beliefs. This includes everything that portrays non-islamic religious symbols, especially in situ heritage in the ancient cities. Ninety per cent of the heritage in Allepo was destroyed. Fortunately, many collections in museums were saved, due to lessons learned from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: important pieces removed in time and stored away or moved to neighboring countries.

Khaled Hiatlih adds to this that Daesh does not just destroy historic sites, but is trying to destroy all non-islamic culture, including non-islamic books and the religious icons in Palmyra. They didn’t have enough time to steal the icons, so they destroyed them before they fled the city. Specifically, Daesh aimed their destruction on the heads and bodily parts, so every sign of polytheistic or non-islamic religion was made unrecognizable.

Most museum collections have been saved thanks to lessons learned from earlier wars, like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, archaeological sites haven’t done as well, since they obviously cannot be moved elsewhere. It is important to make all the necessary preparations, so that, as soon as the war is over, the international community and the Syrian people can start trying to restore the damage that has been inflicted on archeological sites.

What can be done?

In Europe, the destruction of the Syrian heritage received quite some media coverage. Refugees have begun to raise more awareness about the destruction of their heritage. Most recently, on Trafalgar Square in London a replica of the arched gate from the market place of Palmyra was put up. And also the destruction of the temple in Bell in Palmyra headlined the European news broadcasts.

Rasha Haqi from Damascus, the only woman of the group of experts, talks passionately about her love for Syria and the things that can be done to improve the current situation. A Palestinian archaeologist refugee in Syria, she was mainly occupied with communities around archeological sites, whom she tried to empower as co-owners of this historical land. She explains that in the beginning of the war, she organized workshops for kids about mosaic and botany; both are popular and vital parts of Syrian culture. Thanks to these workshops, the kids could stay in touch with their own heritage. Haqi describes Syrian heritage not just as national heritage, but, due to its origin, as the world’s or universal human heritage. She is convinced that by sharing our heritage something can be done for Syria, even from a distance. “By showing the children and telling them what they still have we given them hope – faith is important”.

3d modeling

Khaled Hiatlih, a Palestinian Syrian, agrees with his wife Haqi that the Syrian heritage is actually world heritage. He stresses that Syria can’t restore Syrian heritage alone, and that the world has to cooperate in order to save and restore it. The majority of the collections of three hundred Syrian museums have been hidden safely. After the war it is the intention to re-collect them and to start renovations. But what can be done right now? The war will end eventually, so how can as much heritage as possible be preserved from a distance? The solution lies in modern innovation, by making 3d scans of the historic debris, remodeling missing parts and finally recreating the ancient objects that are now debris. The more preparations we make now, the more we can actually do as soon as the war is finally over, Hiatlih argues.

Reconnecting history to today

Hiatlih is also involved in the creation of an exhibition in the Netherlands about what Syrian heritage is and was. To teach people about what is destroyed; that it is not just Syrian heritage, but also Christian heritage, Jewish heritage, famous mosaics and Roman heritage. His aim is to build bridges between cultures, to make people outside Syria feel the urgency of this problem, in order to, finally, find appropriate patrons for Syrian heritage. He sums up by giving more information about the exhibition Left behind in Syria, that will travel around the Netherlands soon. It shows which heritage is lost, which heritage is still there and to show and share Syrian culture. The audience responds that being an ambassador for your culture is perhaps not enough, that ownership is needed, by creating stakeholders.

Murhaf Alkurdi, from Aleppo, stresses that good knowledge of Syrian heritage is at the basis of developing plans for the post-war situation. By sharing our culture, he explains, we can support Syrian identity. Alkurdi states that heritage is not just about stones. It is about the people who build and created these sites. He holds precious memories of his own visits to Palmyra and suchlike places. Heritage is also linked to the future of the children, who should be enabled to touch these stones as well and thus learn about Syrian culture.

Shared history, shared responsibility? 

The contributions of the Syrian heritage professionals show that there are several issues that need to be addressed, some immediately and some after the war. For now, it is important to remember Syrian identity and culture in order not only to not forget, but also to connect Syrian heritage to other cultures, to increase the feeling of shared ownership and responsibility. Furthermore, even though we cannot save all heritage that is threatened by the war, we can prepare a response on what has been, or will be lost. The more information that is collected about historical sites and objects at risk, the more can be restored using 3d remodeling techniques later on.

The event shows how much hope these heritage professionals have, and how hard they are working and advocating for the survival of their heritage. All professionals showed much optimism and hope about a future for their heritage, and about the revival of their country.

Moreover, as heritage professionals we should take the destruction of this truly international heritage as an opportunity to show what the definition of international heritage can mean as well. What if we can redefine our common identity by rebuilding this heritage? Instead of taking responsibility for international heritage in our own country alone, why can’t we take responsibility for international heritage in another country? Let’s prove that global heritage isn’t a fight over legendary antiquities, but that we can serve a selfless goal.