A decade in the making, Louvre Abu Dhabi draws crowd as diverse as UAE

Traditional Emirati dancers perform at the entrance of the Louvre Museum during its public opening in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. (AP)
Updated 11 November 2017
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A decade in the making, Louvre Abu Dhabi draws crowd as diverse as UAE

ABU DHABI: The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened its doors to the public on Saturday, after a decade-long wait, drawing a crowd as diverse as the cosmopolitan UAE itself.
Long lines of people on Saturday thronged the new museum, which encompasses work from both the East and West.
Hundreds of Emiratis along with Asian, European and Arab expatriates, some dressed in shorts, others in flowing Arabic robes, roamed through the vast museum to see famous works from the Paris institution, and pieces from Middle Eastern civilizations alike.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi, the first museum to bear the Louvre name outside France, presents around 600 pieces in a modern, light-filled structure in harmony with its desert-island setting.
More than a decade in the making, a VIP inauguration was held on Wednesday, with French President Emmanuel Macron among the first visitors.
Flagged as “the first universal museum in the Arab world,” it sits on the low-lying Saadiyat Island, a developing tourism and culture hub 500 meters off the coast of the UAE capital.
Abu Dhabi’s conservative mores can be felt in the pieces on show. The museum’s artwork offers a brief history of the world and its major religions, and it does not shy away from Judaism.
The modernist museum, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, sits under a honeycombed dome of eight layers of Arab-style geometric shapes.
It draws the lapping waters of the Arabian Gulf into its outer corridors, allowing individual beams of light that pass through the roof to strike the surface.
Under a 30-year agreement, France provides expertise, lends works of art and organizes temporary exhibitions — in return for $1.16 billion.
The Louvre in France takes a 400-million-euro share of that sum for the use of its name up to 2037.
For the next 10 years, the Paris museum will lend works to its Abu Dhabi partner on a voluntary basis, for a maximum of two years.
For its permanent collection, the museum has acquired hundreds of pieces, dating from the earliest Mesopotamian civilizations to the present day.
The vast project prides itself as “the first museum of its kind in the Arab world: A universal museum that focuses on shared human stories across civilizations and cultures.”


Iraq says goodbye to its beloved archaeologist Al-Gailani

Updated 21 January 2019
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Iraq says goodbye to its beloved archaeologist Al-Gailani

  • Al-Gailani was one of Iraq’s first women to excavate the country’s archaeological heritage
  • After the US-led invasion, Al-Gailani continued to travel to Iraq, determined to rescue its heritage even as the country convulsed with war

BAGHDAD: Iraq on Monday mourned the loss of Lamia Al-Gailani, a beloved archaeologist who helped rebuild the Baghdad museum after it was looted following the 2003 US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
Al-Gailani, who died in Amman, Jordan, on Friday at the age of 80, was one of Iraq’s first women to excavate the country’s archaeological heritage.
Relatives, colleagues, and cultural officials on Monday gathered at Baghdad’s National Museum, the country’s leading museum, to pay their respects before moving her remains to the Qadiriyyah mosque for prayers and later interment.
A devotee of her country’s heritage, Al-Gailani lent her expertise to restore relics stolen from the museum for its reopening in 2015. She also championed a new antiquities museum for the city of Basra, which opened in 2016.
“She was very keen to communicate on the popular level and make archaeology accessible to ordinary people,” said her daughter, Noorah Al-Gailani, who curates the Islamic civilizations collection at the Glasgow Museum in Scotland.
“It is a big loss, the passing of Dr. Lamia Al-Gailaini, who played a great role in the field of archaeology, even before 2003,” said the deputy minister of culture, Qais Hussein Rashid.
The restored collection at the National Museum included hundreds of cylinder seals, the subject of Al-Gailani’s 1977 dissertation at the University of London. These were engraved surfaces used to print cuneiform impressions and pictographic lore onto documents and surfaces in ancient Mesopotamia, now present-day Iraq.
Still, thousands of artefacts remain missing from the museum’s collection, and Al-Gailani bore the grief of watching her country’s rich heritage suffer unfathomable levels of looting and destruction in the years after Saddam’s ouster.
“I wish it was a nightmare and I could wake up,” she told the BBC in 2015, when Daesh militants bulldozed relics at the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud near present-day Mosul.
Born in Baghdad in 1938, Al-Gailani studied at the University of Cambridge in Britain before finding work as a curator at the National Museum in 1960. It was her first job in archaeology, her daughter said.
She returned to Britain in 1970 to pursue advanced studies, and she made her home there. Still, she kept returning to her native country, connecting foreign academics with an Iraqi archaeological community that was struggling under the isolation of Saddam Hussein’s autocratic rule and the UN sanctions against him.
In 1999, she published “The First Arabs,” in Arabic, with the Iraqi archaeologist Salim Al-Alusi, on the earliest traces of Arab culture in Mesopotamia, in the 6th through 9th centuries.
She would bring copies of the book with her to Baghdad and sell them through a vendor on Mutanabbi Street, the literary heart of the capital, according to her daughter.
After the US-led invasion, Al-Gailani continued to travel to Iraq, determined to rescue its heritage even as the country convulsed with war.
At the time of her death, she was working with the Basra Museum to curate a new exhibit set to open in March, said Qahtan Al-Abeed, the museum director.
“She hand-picked the cylinder seals to display at the museum,” said Al-Abeed.