Modern art, antiques on show at Lebanon cube museum

1 / 2
A picture of the Nabu Museum, in Lebanon's el-Heri village, north of Beirut. The a new private museum, a contemporary sculpture of a mortar missile is displayed alongside millenia-old statues retrieved from the bottom of the sea. (AFP / JOSEPH EID)
2 / 2
Artifacts are seen on display at Nabu Museum, in Lebanon's el-Heri village, north of Beirut, on September 27, 2018. (AFP / JOSEPH EID)
Updated 13 October 2018

Modern art, antiques on show at Lebanon cube museum

  • Nabu Museum opened in late September to showcase the cultural wealth of an ancient region devastated by conflict
  • Its inaugural exhibition includes 60 contemporary works, as well as around 400 antiquities from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Yemen

El-Heri, Lebanon: At a new private museum in Lebanon, a contemporary sculpture of a mortar missile is displayed alongside millenia-old statues retrieved from the bottom of the sea.

Named after the Mesopotamian deity of wisdom, the Nabu Museum opened in late September to showcase the cultural wealth of an ancient region devastated by conflict.

Its inaugural exhibition includes 60 contemporary works, as well as around 400 antiquities from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Yemen.

“We have a more or less complete picture of what was once the cradle of civilization,” says French curator Pascal Odille.

Next to a private beach in the village of El-Heri in Lebanon’s north, the museum’s collection sits in an impressive futuristic cube of steel, coated with a rusty orange patina.

A tall glass opening in the metal and concrete structure provides a view straight through the museum’s interior and out to the sea.

Designed by Iraqi artists, the museum for the first time opens up the private art and antiquities collections of wealthy businessmen to the public for free.

Drawn from the homes and warehouses of its patrons, the exhibits are displayed on two floors, floodlit by the sunlight streaming through the tall windows.

There are “ushabti” from Ancient Egypt, finely carved turquoise figurines traditionally placed in coffins to ensure passage to the afterlife.

Nearby, a contemporary sculpture of a mortar missile by Lebanese artist Katya Traboulsi is adorned with hieroglyphs.

The artwork is topped by a sculpted bust of the Ancient Egyptian god of the sky, Horus, instead of a warhead.

Visitors can see Lebanese artist Saliba Douaihy’s abstract landscape paintings, one largely red, the other bright blue.

But they can also admire terracotta statues harking back to the Phoenician period found during marine excavations off the southern coast of Lebanon.

“You can see the seashell and limescale deposits on them,” says Odille, of the figures from the sixth or seventh century BC.

The museum’s founders — two Lebanese and a Syrian — want it to be a beacon of hope in a region scarred by conflict and the brutality of jihadists.

“Nabu is the god of writing and wisdom. Not the god of war,” says Lebanese cofounder Jawad Adra.

“We’re a ray of optimism in this region, amid all this obscurity,” says the 64-year-old, whose colorful, modern-art inspired tie contrasts with his grey suit.

The project cost $7 million, the organizers say.

But the works on show only represent a fraction of its founders’ private collections, and there are plans to switch the exhibits every few months.

Adra’s personal collection includes 2,000 items from the Levant and Mesopotamia regions, according to the exhibition’s catalogue.

The businessman says his hobby dates back to his childhood.

“I’ve been collecting stamps and coins since I was 10,” says Adra, who now heads a Beirut-based polling company and owns quality control labs in the Gulf.

He says it is time to give back.

To set up the museum, he banded together with Syrian business partner Fida Jdeed, and fellow Lebanese entrepreneur Badr El-Hage, who runs a rare book firm in London.

“We’ve all reached an age where we’re starting to ask ourselves, ‘What have you done? What have you given your country?’,” he says.

Lebanon’s interior minister recently attended an evening inauguration ceremony at the Nabu Museum.

In Lebanon, a 2016 law demands all private owners of antiquities register their items with the ministry as part of its efforts to combat illegal trafficking.

Adra says that “a large part” of his collection has been declared to the authorities, and he is registering the rest.

In recent years, part of the region’s cultural heritage was damaged, destroyed or looted by armed groups including jihadists.

Daesh in particular swept across large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, wrecking countless historical sites in territory it controlled.

Mahmud Al-Obaidi, who designed the museum building with fellow Iraqi artist Dia Azzawi, sees the project as compensation for years of loss.

“I feel this place is payback for everything that has been destroyed,” says the 53-year-old, who left Iraq in 1991 for Canada.

With governments in the region busy battling troubled economies and poverty, personal initiatives are key to preserving culture, he says.

“Our states don’t take culture seriously,” says the artist, dressed in a light blue linen shirt and dark blue jacket, whose work is on show inside the museum.

Yet, passing civilizations live on in their art, Obaidi says.

“They don’t realise that everything fades away, but it’s the books, paintings and antiquities that remain,” he adds.

Two engineers help fight Lebanese farming foe

Updated 40 min 2 sec ago

Two engineers help fight Lebanese farming foe

  • Early-warning system lets farmers know when to protect their crops from fruit flies
  • Mobile app tells them the best time to spray pesticides to halt their advance

DUBAI: An award-winning startup led by two female Lebanese engineers has created an automated early-warning system that allows Middle East farmers to protect their crops against the Mediterranean fruit fly, one of the world’s most destructive pests.

Fruit flies can devastate entire harvests and have infested over 300 types of vegetables, fruits and nuts globally, causing financial ruin to countless farmers in the Arab world.

However, an ingenious system designed by Nisrine El Turky, a computer engineer and university professor, and Christina Chaccour, an electrical engineer, will tell farmers via text messages and mobile app of the best time to spray pesticides to halt the pests’ advance.

“Many Lebanese farmers weren’t able to export apples because the quality of their produce wasn’t good enough,” said El Turky, co-founder of IO Tree.

“So many I met were desperate to sell a crate of apples for $2 (SR7.50), which is nothing. I wanted to help the sector by better integrating technology.”

Farmers were found spraying too much pesticide to try to kill fruit flies. (Shutterstock)

She began by investigating the difficulties that farmers faced, attending workshops and seminars, and visiting farms. She found the main problem was that farmers were spraying too much pesticide to try to kill fruit flies.

“I found a way that could reduce the use of pesticides and increase production.”

El Turky began working on the IO Tree concept in February 2018 and swiftly built a working prototype, which she showed to Chaccour, who promptly joined the company as a co-founder.

IO Tree’s technology is being tested on farms in Lebanon and the Netherlands. There are two prototype machines — one for indoor use and another for outdoor. The machines can be placed in an orchard, field or greenhouse.

“We need to ensure that the prototype functions in all conditions. Outdoors, there is sun, dust, rain and other weather factors that could disrupt its operation,” said El Turky, who still works up to 10 hours a week as a lecturer at Lebanon’s Notre Dame University.

Using machine learning and artificial intelligence, the machine’s sensors monitor indicators such as temperature and moisture, as well as studying plant stress.

The system can detect and identify pests, providing data on the likely scale of an imminent pest invasion and the best action the farmer should take to combat it. Information is conveyed to the farmer via IO Tree’s app.

“If you’re using pesticides, our app will tell you the best pesticide to use to tackle that problem, the quantity you need and when to spray.”

IO Tree’s sensors use machine learning to measure plant stress. (Supplied photo)

EL Turky said her technology had shown over 90 percent accuracy in identifying medflies.

“Machine learning means that every day the system becomes more accurate,” she said.

“We’re also working on identifying other pests, but medfly is our main target. Once medflies arrive at a farm, they will eat everything.”

IO Tree will enable farmers to use fewer pesticides, reducing environmental damage, while produce will be in better condition and can command a higher sales price.

“By using fewer pesticides, farmers will be better able to preserve biodiversity: Spraying kills a lot more insects than just pests,” she said. IO Tree has initially targeted all types of fruit trees, plus tomatoes and cucumbers, and the product will be launched commercially in September.

“We’re aiming at farmers directly,” said El Turky.

IO Tree’s services will be sold via subscription. After a farmer signs up for one year initially, the company will install its machines at the farm. The number of machines required per acre depends on crop type, crop yield, land topography and other factors.

The company’s initial target market is the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, though it also plans to expand to Europe and eventually worldwide.

The product’s potential has helped IO Tree win a string of startup competitions. It was selected to represent Lebanon GSVC 2019 (Global Social Venture Competition) at the University of California, Berkeley.

IO Tree also joined Lebanon’s Agrytech accelerator, which provided $44,000 in funding, and schooled the fledgling entrepreneurs in how to create and manage a startup.


• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.