Iraqi, Syrian guides bring views to Philadelphia museum

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Moumena Saradar, left, originally from Syria, guides visitors through the Middle East gallery at Penn Museum, in Philadelphia. (AP)
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Part of the Middle East gallery is displayed at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is opening the galleries to showcase previously undisplayed items, and is making the artifacts more relatable by adding guides native to those parts of the world. (AP)
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Abdulhadi Al-Karfawi guides visitors though the Middle East gallery in the Penn Museum, in Philadelphia. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is in the midst of dramatic renovations, opening new galleries to showcase previously undisplayed items. (AP)
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A wall panel of glazed terra-cotta, from a Sufi monastery in Iran, circa 1400 to 1520 BCE, hangs in the Middle East Galleries at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. (AP)
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The headdress and jewelry of Queen Puabi dating to some 4,500 years ago, is displayed at the Middle East gallery in the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is in the midst of dramatic renovations, opening new galleries to showcase previously undisplayed items, telling the stories of those artifacts in more relatable ways and adding guides native to the parts of the world being showcased. (AP)
Updated 20 May 2018

Iraqi, Syrian guides bring views to Philadelphia museum

PHILADELPHIA: Three Iraqi natives and a Syrian woman have been enlisted as guides to share a modern cultural perspective with visitors to new Middle Eastern galleries at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.
The guides intersperse personal stories with historic content as they lead groups through the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s new galleries that tell tales going back 10,000 years.
“People really have trouble understanding and connecting with objects from the ancient past,” said Ellen M. Owens, Penn Museum’s Merle-Smith director of learning programs. “People who come from these places, even in contemporary times, can find a connection with the objects and they provide an interesting window into what it’s like to walk through these magnificent ancient ziggurats or visit a marketplace where traditions go back thousands of years.”
On a recent tour, guide Abdulhadi Al-Karfawi pointed out cuneiform tablets used for accounting, legal text and, in one case, a school boy’s recounting of an argument with his father. Using a blunt reed on a clay tablet, the boy detailed how his father had scolded him, saying “Why are you wasting time? Get to school! Apply yourself at school!“
“I read that and think of my father, who was a tough person who had 15 boys and girls but was on top of everything,” said Al-Karfawi, 40, a former translator for the US Army in Baghdad who settled in the US with his wife and children last year. “Today, as a father, I have the same argument with my kid. I never thought it was happening thousands of years ago.”
In another part of the galleries, Moumena Saradar, 41, paused in front of bronze and brass balance scales and weights dating back to the 1800s. The scales are similar to the ones used at the market near her home in Damascus. Saradar remembers when, as a teenager, her mother taught her to use the scales so she could double check the weights of the fruits and vegetables she’d purchased from a vendor.
“Because if he cheats her, everyone in the town would know,” Saradar said, drawing laughter.
Rusty Baker, executive director of the non-profit advocacy group PA Museums, said programs like the Penn Museum’s Global Guides provide visitors with a richer experience and could help grow audiences. At Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary historic site, former prisoners and guards lead tours, he said, while some tribal museums feature Native Americans guides.
“Museums have been looking at demographics and asking, ‘Who is not here and how do we do something about that?’” Baker said. “These programs are an opportunity to provide a more authentic experience as opposed to a typical tour with a docent who is knowledgeable and passionate but not culturally connected.”
Penn Museum will continue to expand the Global Guides program, Owens said, as it opens two new galleries showcasing Mexico/Central America and Africa in the next year. The museum is working with two organizations that help new immigrants to find trainees.
Part of that training includes discussing provenance and how guides feel about seeing objects from their home countries on display in the US Guides in the current group say they are happy to have pieces of their old homeland in their new one
“Every time I go through the gallery, I feel like this is Iraq,” Al-Karfawi said. “My grandma wore a headpiece like (Queen Puabi). . The dishes are so lovely and they remind me of my sister serving food.”
Saradar said she saw the exhibit as a way to build cultural understanding.
“This is the best thing I could do, being a messenger for my culture. I wouldn’t be able to do that without these objects,” she said. “I’m finding connections between your people and my people.”
After taking Al-Karfawi’s tour, Lalaine Little said she enjoyed hearing his personal story of sleeping on rooftop mattresses with his family during the hottest nights.
“There’s something universal about a family camping out, looking at the stars,” said Little, director of the Pauly Friedman Art Gallery at Misericordia University. “This experience felt very authentic. Sometimes you go on these tours and there are somewhat canned responses (from guides), but his were very heartfelt. He’s not repeating what he learned in training. He’s talking about his heritage because he’s very proud of it.”

Nadine Labaki, Rami Malek score Oscar nominations as race kicks off

Updated 22 January 2019

Nadine Labaki, Rami Malek score Oscar nominations as race kicks off

DUBAI: The Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday, with Lebanese director Nadine Labaki scoring a nomination for her film, “Capernaum.”

Meanwhile, American-Egyptian actor Rami Malek was nominated for “Leading Actor” for his role as Freddie Mercury in in Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” while breakout star Mahershala Ali scored a “Supporting Actor” nomination for his role in “Green Book.” Ali made history for being reported as the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar in 2017, for his role in "Moonlight."

Actors Tracee Ellis Ross and Kumail Nanjiani announced the nominations at 5:20 a.m. in Los Angeles, as film critics, movie stars and producers and directors across the world set their alarms early to catch the eagerly-awaited submissions for Hollywood's most coveted awards.

The show will take place on Feb. 24 and will see Hollywood’s cream of the crop go head to head.

Labaki’s “Capernaum” was widely expected to be nominated as it has been well received by international critics.

The gritty film, which won the 2018 Cannes Jury Prize, centers on a poverty-stricken child who sues his parents in protest of the life they have given him. Last year’s Oscar entry from Lebanon, Ziad Doueiri’s “The Insult,” also earned a nomination.

One of the most buzzed-about foreign language films this year, however, is “Roma” from Alfonso Cuaron — a black and white ode to his childhood in 1970s Mexico City that took home two Golden Globes, including best director.

The film was produced by streaming giant Netflix, which has come under criticism from its more traditional rivals for its strategy of massive online distribution of original content — and screenings in only a few cinemas.

“Roma” is the first Netflix film to vie for glory in major Oscar categories.

It was also nominated in the coveted “Best Film” category, alongside “Black Panther”

“BlacKkKlansman,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Favorite,” “Green Book,” “Roma” and “A Star is Born.”

Last year, the awards season was marked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and the birth of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements against sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace.

This year, multiple controversies are plaguing the Oscars — none of them related to last year's bombshell.

In August, the Academy — under fire for being too elitist — announced it would add a “best popular film” award. But many saw the new category as a booby prize for blockbusters like “Black Panther” that would keep them out of contention for top honors.

The plan was scrapped a month later.

Then actor-comedian Kevin Hart had perhaps the briefest tenure ever as Oscars host — a few days. He withdrew after homophobic tweets he had written years ago sparked a crippling backlash on social media.

Of course, on Oscars night, the focus will revert to the nominees and the red carpet glamor.

Key Nominations

Best Film

‘Black Panther’


‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

‘The Favorite’

‘Green Book’


‘A Star is Born’


Best Foreign Language Film  

‘Capernaum’ (Lebanon)

‘Cold War’ (Poland)

‘Never Look Away’ (Germany)

‘Roma’ (Mexico)

‘Shoplifters’ (Japan)

Best Actor

Christian Bale, "Vice"

Bradley Cooper, "A Star Is Born"

Willem Dafoe, "At Eternity's Gate"

Rami Malek, "Bohemian Rhapsody"

Viggo Mortensen, "Green Book"

Best Actress 

Yalitza Aparicio, "Roma"

Glenn Close, "The Wife"

Olivia Colman, "The Favourite"

Lady Gaga, "A Star Is Born"

Melissa McCarthy, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"