How Iraq’s Daesh-ransacked Mosul Cultural Museum is being repaired from scratch

How Iraq’s Daesh-ransacked Mosul Cultural Museum is being repaired from scratch
A fragment of inscribed stone, weighing around 25 kg, before conservation measures. (Smithsonian Institution)
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Updated 15 May 2021

How Iraq’s Daesh-ransacked Mosul Cultural Museum is being repaired from scratch

How Iraq’s Daesh-ransacked Mosul Cultural Museum is being repaired from scratch
  • Six years after its precious antiquities were wrecked by the terror group, the museum is slowly re-emerging from the rubble 
  • Remote training from the Musee du Louvre and Smithsonian Institution has allowed restoration work to continue despite the pandemic

DUBAI: On Feb. 26, 2015, disturbing footage emerged from northwestern Iraq showing Daesh militants smashing pre-Islamic artefacts and burning ancient manuscripts at the Mosul Cultural Museum.

The terrorist group had seized control of the multi-ethnic city the previous year, and had set about looting everything of value and destroying anything that failed to conform to its warped ideology.

Priceless objects, spread across the museum’s three central halls, had told the singular narrative of Iraq as a land of remarkable civilizations — from the Sumerians and the Akkadians to the Assyrians and the Babylonians.




A member of the Iraqi forces holds a damaged artifact in the museum on March 13, 2017. (AFP) 

And yet it took only moments, as the camera rolled, for Daesh to physically erase the evidence of thousands of years of human history. The images, reminiscent of the Taliban’s demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas, sent a wave of revulsion around the world.

At some heritage sites in Mosul, including the ancient city of Nimrud, up to 80 percent of the excavated and restored monuments had been destroyed, according to experts from the British Museum.

Almost two years after the pillaging, on July 21, 2017, Mosul was finally liberated by the Iraqi army, ushering in a period of painstaking reconstruction work to restore the city’s monuments, churches, mosques and archaeological treasures.




Iraqi forces battle Daesh outside Mosul Cultural Museum on March 11, 2017. (AFP)

An international partnership of institutions was established in 2018 to repair the museum’s damaged civil structure and collections ransacked by Daesh. Its members include the Geneva-based Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH), the Musee du Louvre, the Smithsonian Institution and the World Monuments Fund (WMF).

These organizations work closely with the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) and the museum’s director, Zaid Ghazi Saadullah.

The collaboration began when SBAH contacted ALIPH — an organization founded in 2017 to safeguard endangered heritage sites — to secure much-needed funding for the restoration.




Rosalie Gonzalez is a a project manager for the alliance. (Supplied)

“Iraq was one of the reasons ALIPH was created,” Rosalie Gonzalez, a project manager for the alliance, told Arab News. “It was one of the priority countries from the beginning. The Mosul Cultural Museum was the first project the foundation funded in Iraq.

“Through our calls for projects and our emergency relief mechanism, we funded 28 projects in Iraq for more than $9 million. Within three years, it’s a lot of progress and we’re very happy to have this extended portfolio in Iraq.”

Museum professionals who offered expertise and support were brought in to assess the extent of the damage.




Saad Ahmed, the Mosul Cultural Museum’s head of conservation (left), and Zaid Ghazi Saadullah, the museum’s director, examine a wood cenotaph in the Mosul Cultural Museum’s Islamic Hall in February 2019. (Supplied)

Nothing had been spared. The museum itself, founded in 1952, had been badly damaged, its windows and doors shattered, its roof torn open, and shell casings and unexploded ordnance left scattered throughout its grounds.

The museum’s once monumental winged bulls, known as Lamassus, had been reduced to gravel, while its figurative sculptures lay dismembered where they had fallen.

A rich collection of embellished friezes and Assyrian paintings had been looted and 25,000 manuscripts burned to ashes.




The remains of one of Mosul Cultural Museum’s lamassu statues. (AFP)

Perhaps the most harrowing sight of all was the gaping hole left in the floor of the Assyrian Hall, where a throne-like platform had stood before it was blown to pieces. One expert who visited the site likened it to a crime scene.

“I think the whole museum community felt like this really was a terrible crime against culture and history, and we had to do something about it,” Richard Kurin, ambassador-at-large at the Smithsonian Institution, told Arab News.

Ariane Thomas, a Mesopotamian art specialist and head of the Oriental antiquities department at Musee du Louvre, echoed his sentiments.




Ariane Thomas is the director of Oriental antiquities department at Musee du Louvre. (Musée du Louvre)

“It’s a complete loss,” she told Arab News from Paris. “It was a bit like losing someone I knew. I was also struck by the fact that so many people were deeply moved even though sometimes they didn’t know much about those objects.”

This shocking act of vandalism was not merely the product of Daesh’s ideology of “separating people from their history,” but was driven in large part by the pursuit of profit, Kurin said. After all, the militants looted several highly valuable items.

“There was an economic (logic) to this,” he said. “They were blowing up what they couldn’t carry and then removing what they could so that they could presumably sell it in exchange for armaments, bullets and explosives.




The Mosul Cultural Museum was the first project the foundation funded in Iraq. (Supplied)

“We know that Daesh engaged in a whole system of doing that. They gave permits to people to loot archaeological sites.”

A dedicated team of Iraqi experts, trained by professionals from the Louvre and Smithsonian, has set about sorting through the debris to salvage and conserve what was left behind.

What they find is carefully documented, catalogued and placed in a local storage facility that today functions as a fully equipped conservation laboratory, used by specialists for all recovery activities.




Richard Kurin is the  ambassador-at-large at the Smithsonian Institution. (Smithsonian Institution)

The painstaking process of piecing objects back together has been carried out with the help of specialized equipment and computers supplied by the Louvre.

“What we did was treat the museum like it was an archaeological site,” said Kurin. “Rather than throwing all the rubble away, we collected it, labeled it and kept it systematic so that you could find the pieces of what was originally a whole.”

Progress was slowed by the coronavirus pandemic and related travel restrictions, but restoration advice and assistance continued remotely.




Iraqi forces battle Daesh outside Mosul Cultural Museum on March 11, 2017. (AFP)

“We decided that there was no reason to stop. And, morally, we couldn’t do so,” said Thomas. “So we built, from A to Z, a training program online on various subjects to better prepare the museum’s rehabilitation.

“We are still producing new videos. So far, we have 30 to 50 videos that are all in French and Arabic. We somehow invented a new way to move forward on the restoration despite the distance due to the health crisis.”

As for the integrity of the building itself, a team from the WMF has assessed the building and its surroundings and prepared a plan "including all necessary investigations and the development of concept, design, and construction drawings," its media office said.




The museum was founded in 1952. (Supplied)

Experts hope to reopen the museum within three to four years.

The revival of the Mosul Cultural Museum is significant on many levels: It emphasizes camaraderie in times of crisis; the city’s true multi-faith identity; and, above all, the refusal to allow Daesh’s “year-zero” ideology to prevail.

“Increasingly, museums have realized that they have a responsibility beyond their walls,” said Kurin.

As for Mosul, the museum’s emergence from the rubble offers cause for optimism. “By rebuilding the museum and the collections, the Iraqi team along with the international partners are sending a message of hope,” said Gonzalez.

“We will bring this museum back to life, and by doing so we will protect our past and build a better future.”


Plans for movie on New Zealand mosque attacks draw criticism

Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne (L) was set to play Ardern, with New Zealander Andrew Niccol (R) writing and directing. (AP/File Photos)
Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne (L) was set to play Ardern, with New Zealander Andrew Niccol (R) writing and directing. (AP/File Photos)
Updated 12 June 2021

Plans for movie on New Zealand mosque attacks draw criticism

Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne (L) was set to play Ardern, with New Zealander Andrew Niccol (R) writing and directing. (AP/File Photos)
  • The movie would be set in the days after the 2019 attacks in which 51 people were killed at two Christchurch mosques

WELLINGTON: Tentative plans for a movie that recounts the response of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to a gunman's slaughter of Muslim worshippers drew criticism in New Zealand on Friday for not focusing on the victims of the attacks.
Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne was set to play Ardern in the movie “They Are Us,” which was being shopped by New York-based FilmNation Entertainment to international buyers.
The movie would be set in the days after the 2019 attacks in which 51 people were killed at two Christchurch mosques.
Deadline said the movie would follow Ardern's response to the attacks and how people rallied behind her message of compassion and unity, and her successful call to ban the deadliest types of semiautomatic weapons.
The title of the movie comes from the words Ardern spoke in a landmark address soon after the attacks. At the time, Ardern was praised around the world for her response.
But many in New Zealand are raising concerns about the movie plans.
Aya Al-Umari, whose older brother Hussein was killed in the attacks, wrote on Twitter simply “Yeah nah,” a New Zealand phrase meaning “No.”
Abdigani Ali, a spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Canterbury, said the community recognized the story of the attacks needed to be told “but we would want to ensure that it’s done in an appropriate, authentic, and sensitive matter.”
Tina Ngata, an author and advocate, was more blunt, tweeting that the slaughter of Muslims should not be the backdrop for a film about "white woman strength. COME ON.”
Ardern’s office said in a brief statement that the prime minister and her government have no involvement with the movie.
Deadline reported that New Zealander Andrew Niccol would write and direct the project and that the script was developed in consultation with several members of the mosques affected by the tragedy.
Niccol said the film wasn't so much about the attacks but more the response.
“The film addresses our common humanity, which is why I think it will speak to people around the world," Niccol told Deadline. "It is an example of how we should respond when there’s an attack on our fellow human beings.”
Byrne's agents and FilmNation did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The report said the project would be filmed in New Zealand but did not say when.
Niccol is known for writing and directing “Gattaca” and writing “The Terminal" and “The Truman Show,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
Byrne is known for roles in “Spy” and “Bridesmaids.”


French star Omar Sy gives magical touch to season two of ‘Lupin’ on Netflix

French star Omar Sy gives magical touch to season two of ‘Lupin’ on Netflix
Omar Sy plays the artful protagonist Assane Diop (right). Netflix
Updated 12 June 2021

French star Omar Sy gives magical touch to season two of ‘Lupin’ on Netflix

French star Omar Sy gives magical touch to season two of ‘Lupin’ on Netflix

CHENNAI: The second season of Netflix’s “Lupin” is exhilarating, high on style and full of swagger. Its lead star Omar Sy, who plays protagonist Assane Diop, is a classy master of disguise and disappearance, modelled on the “gentleman burglar” Arsene Lupin, a fictional character created in 1905 by French novelist and short-story writer Maurice Leblanc. Loved to bits by international viewers — the French show’s first season entered Netflix’s Top 10 in most countries around the globe in 2021 — Lupin seems a good contemporary counter to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

Season one, which premiered in January, had all the excitement to banish pandemic lockdown blues. Netflix

Season one, which premiered in January, had all the excitement to banish pandemic lockdown blues, beginning with a daring heist in the Louvre in Paris, going on to narrate the ups and downs of a Senegalese immigrant, who dies in prison after being falsely accused of a crime he never committed. 

His son, Assane, swears to clear his father’s name and take vengeance on the rich and nefarious aristocrat, Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre), responsible for the tragedy. Director Louis Leterrier and creator George Kay left the season on a nail-biting cliff-hanger centering on Assane’s son, Raoul (Etan Simon), and his ex-partner Claire (Ludivine Sagnier). 

Director Louis Leterrier and creator George Kay left the season on a nail-biting cliff-hanger centering on Assane’s son and his ex-partner Claire. Netflix

The five-episode second season, with screenplay by François Uzan, takes off from where it left off, with whirlwind chases and a touching love story between Assane and his childhood sweetheart Juliette (Clotilde Hesme) on the banks of the Seine, and his emotional bonding with Raoul. 

The narrative is tightly edited and the episodes are knitted together seamlessly, taking us back and forth between Assane’s boyhood and adulthood. Mamadou Haidara, who plays Assane in his schooldays, is delightfully mischievous, and carries all the attributes of the adult “gentleman burglar.” A scene where he “borrows” an expensive violin to help a very young Juliette is moving. In fact, the one big difference between the two seasons is that the second is high on emotions, which makes it even more appealing. 

The five-episode second season, with screenplay by François Uzan, takes off from where it left off. Netflix

Shot in Paris, the city becomes a character itself. Warmly glowing during the day and twinkling brightly at night, it has irresistible romanticism. The grand finale leaves us craving a third season, and more of the brilliant lead character so wonderfully portrayed by Sy.

 


Model Shanina Shaik celebrates becoming a homeowner

Model Shanina Shaik celebrates becoming a homeowner
The model moved back to America in February. Instagram
Updated 12 June 2021

Model Shanina Shaik celebrates becoming a homeowner

Model Shanina Shaik celebrates becoming a homeowner

DUBAI: Part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik is officially a homeowner. The 30-year-old this week took to her Instagram Stories to share the exciting news that she just purchased a home in Hollywood, California.

She wrote: “I’m officially a homeowner!” alongside a trio of the emoji wearing a party hat and blowing a party horn.

“Thank you @deniserosnerhomes, the best real estate agent,” she captioned an image of herself posing in front of a kitchen island. “If you need a home, this is your gurl (sic),” she added.

Shaik moved back to the US from London, where she spent the majority of quarantine, in February.

Shaik purchased a home in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Instagram

The supermodel, who is of Saudi, Pakistani, Lithuanian and Australian descent, moved to London after more than a decade in the US.

In February, she obtained a visa to enter America, thanks to US Immigration Attorney Carlos Rosas who helped her and made “the unimaginable happen,” according to an Instagram post.

“Congratulations @shaninamshaik on becoming a homeowner — you were a dream to work with and I’m so lucky to call you (a) friend,” wrote Shaik’s real estate agent on Instagram, adding “now let’s get #Choppa back so he and #Penelope can have a playdate,” referring to Shaik’s pet dog who is still in the UK.

It appears that Shaik’s new home is not all the model has to celebrate as the Victoria’s Secret star is finally going to be reunited with her beloved French bulldog after months of trying to bring her furry friend home.

“I had a lot of issues with Choppa’s situation but at the end of the day I found out that Choppa is coming home tomorrow,” said Shaik in a video posted to her Stories. “And you’re going to see a really, really happy woman. I’m going to cry my eyes out when I see him so I’m going to keep you guys posted on that video,” she added.

Back in May, the part-Arab model took to social media to ask fans to help reunite her with her pet dog who was unable to undertake the trip with her across the Atlantic for reasons unknown.

She asked if any of her friends or followers are traveling to the US from the UK and would be able to help return her pet pooch home.

The model regularly takes to social media to gush about her dog and even set up an Instagram account for her canine companion, which she has had for several years.


A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’

A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’
Updated 12 June 2021

A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’

A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’
  • A spirited new anthology of poems and stories by Arab women down the ages overturns common expectations of gender 
  • ‘We Wrote in Symbols’ celebrates the literary works of 75 female writers of Arab heritage spanning five millenia

DUBAI: British-Palestinian author Selma Dabbagh hopes a new book featuring 75 stories of love and desire penned by Arab women will help pave the way for more female authors to emerge from the Middle East region.

The English-language anthology “We Wrote in Symbols,” edited by Dabbagh, was published in April this year, marking a literary first in showcasing the works of women from the region on subjects many might consider bold.

Spanning several millennia, the volume includes the works of classical poets, award-winning contemporary authors and emerging writers.

“It brings together a diverse range of voices who are writers in English, French and Arabic, coming from all of the three main monotheistic religions, as well as those that are not religious at all,” Dabbagh told Arab News.

‘We Wrote in Symbols’ editor Selma Dabbagh. (Courtesy of Sussana Baker Smith)

The idea arose after Dabbagh stumbled on an anthology called “Classical Poems by Arab Women,” which contained writings from the pre-Islamic period up to the fall of Andalusia in 1492.

The collection left a lasting impression. “Some were what you would expect. There were poems lamenting the loss of a brother in battle,” Dabbagh said.

“But other women were talking about sexuality in a way that was very self-assured. Some were being a bit provocative, but others were just content with that aspect of their life. The voices were surprising, but they also felt fresh, contemporary and spirited.”

Dabbagh began to notice similar themes in the work of contemporary female authors discussing issues of love and desire — in some cases dealing with the disconnection between the two in relationships, which were portrayed with remarkable sensitivity.

As a fiction writer, Dabbagh had always found this a difficult topic to handle, partly due to self-censorship stemming from her own notions of shame.

“There is a universal insistence on associating the actions of a character with the behavior of an author, which we need to be freed from,” she said.

Sabrina Mahfouz. (Courtesy of Greg Morrison)

“To be a writer who is able to depict those delicate shifts in mood and connections between people takes an enormous amount of skill and imagination. So, the collection is basically a combination of the older, classical poets and the newer voices looking at this difficult terrain.

“A lot of them are very funny, some are quite daring and explicit, and it’s just a different way for women identified with the region to have their writing viewed — through matters of the heart and the body.”

Dabbagh said there is an expectation among English readers that most Arab fiction is slightly depressing, political or downbeat. In the words of Nathalie Handal, one of the poets featured in the anthology, “people think Arabs don’t love with a beating heart.” The book aims to challenge this misconception.

“It tries to bring that sense of emotional excitement and tenderness to a vast, diverse and varied region through the writing of women,” Dabbagh said.

Indeed, there is much to celebrate about women in Arab literature, which actually predates anything published by a female author in the English language. One of the earliest poems included in the anthology dates back almost 5,000 years.

“You have this tradition, mainly in poetry, of writing and letter writing by Arab women before women started writing in Europe,” Dabbagh said. “I really wanted to show that, because it’s not something that is associated with the Arab world in terms of having higher levels of advancement in female literacy.”

Hanan Al-Shayk. (Supplied)

For Dabbagh, whose debut novel “Out of It” was nominated as a Guardian book of the year in 2011-12, navigating the affairs of the heart is not something that necessarily becomes easier with age.

Although she read the works of Hanan Al-Shaykh and Ahdaf Soueif avidly in her 20s, she wishes there had been more Arab women writers in her youth. “Sadly, I only read fluently in English,” she said.

“It was really radically life-changing for me to read accounts by women of a similar background. I grew up between the Gulf and Europe mainly, and I always found it such a difficult subject matter for me to find my voice.”

Reading their stories made Dabbagh more articulate about her own feelings.

“It just gives you a set of tools with which to negotiate this tricky emotional terrain,” she said. “I think (my book) might help to provide a level of self-knowledge because there are so many different characters in it that readers should be  able to relate to.”

Having read the works of critically acclaimed American writers, whose brash depiction of the hook-up culture she found dulling, her interest returned to the writings of women of Arab heritage to see how their interpretations of romance, sentimentality, vulnerability and desire affected her.

Laura Hanna. (Supplied)

In these works, she found creativity, humor and craft. “We’re always being told to see these two worlds I come from (the West/Europe and the Arab world) as almost antithetical to one another,” Dabbagh said.

“But with the language of love and looking at the Mediterranean as a kind of sea of stories, we can see how there’s been influence over time between Europe and the Arab world.

“In the 19th century, you had a lot of writers and explorers who came to the Arab world because it was a place of freer sensuality. It seemed to be less restrictive than the puritanical backgrounds these writers came from.

“Now that pattern has, to some extent, been reversed.”

During the Abbasid period, the topic  was written about and seen almost as a scientific study. “You could have a book which dealt with astrology and physics as well as expounding on sensuality, because sensuality and getting that harmony right between a couple was something that was indicative of how you can have harmony in the society as a whole,” Dabbagh said.

Elif Shafak. (Supplied)

“So, it was a way of ensuring that the community was in balance and that, to me, is such a beautiful idea. But it’s something that is rarely associated with the religion anymore.”

Nowadays, any associations between religion, women and sexuality appears to be overwhelmingly negative. “I wanted to show that range, to try to break up that stereotype,” she said.

And although one book is unlikely to change opinions overnight, Dabbagh believes women’s voices are gradually subverting traditional methods of censorship.

“The region has been engulfed with images, films and TV for the past 70 years, and most of it was state-run,” she said. “But now with Netflix and online streaming, we have a lot more content coming in and it’s hugely influential.”

Nevertheless, the depiction of Arabs and the Islamic world in Hollywood has improved little in the past century. “There is a kind of mass absorption of negative images of the region from outside, which is going to influence behavior,” Dabbagh said.

“We need to find ways of writing stories which are connected to regional history, cultures, which are exciting, dramatic, sleek and sexy. It’s just about being trained up, opting into it and starting to influence the way these stories are told.”

___________

Twitter: @CalineMalek


British actor Riz Ahmed leads bid to change way Muslims seen in movies

British actor Riz Ahmed leads bid to change way Muslims seen in movies
Riz Ahmed, 38, who was born in London to Pakistani parents, said that offering funding would be game changing in getting more Muslim actors, writer and producers into the movie and TV business. File/AFP
Updated 12 June 2021

British actor Riz Ahmed leads bid to change way Muslims seen in movies

British actor Riz Ahmed leads bid to change way Muslims seen in movies
  • Ahmed is the first Muslim to get a best actor Oscar nomination
  • The $25,000 fellowships for young Muslim artists will be decided by an advisory committee

LONDON: British actor Riz Ahmed on Thursday launched an effort to improve the way Muslims are depicted in movies after a study showed that they are barely seen and shown in a negative light when they do appear.

Ahmed, the "Sound of Metal" star and the first Muslim to get a best actor Oscar nomination, said the Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion would include funding and mentoring for Muslim story tellers in the early stages of their careers.

"The representation of Muslims on screen feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded," Ahmed said in a statement.

"The data doesn't lie. This study shows us the scale of the problem in popular film, and its cost is measured in lost potential and lost lives," he added.

Titled "Missing and Maligned," the study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that less than 10% of top-grossing films released from 2017-2019 from the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand featured at least one speaking Muslim character.

When they did, they were shown as outsiders, or threatening, or subservient, the study showed. About one-third of Muslim characters were perpetrators of violence and more than half were targets of violence.

"Muslims live all over the world, but film audiences only see a narrow portrait of this community, rather than viewing Muslims as they are: business owners, friends and neighbors whose presence is part of modern life," said Al-Baab Khan, one of the report's authors.

Ahmed, 38, who was born in London to Pakistani parents, said that offering funding would be game changing in getting more Muslim actors, writer and producers into the movie and TV business.

"Had I not received a scholarship and also a private donation, I wouldn't have been able to attend drama school," he said.

The $25,000 fellowships for young Muslim artists will be decided by an advisory committee that includes actors Mahershala Ali and Ramy Youssef and comedian Hasan Minhaj.