Comic book festival draws laughs in Lebanon

Comic book festival draws laughs in Lebanon
Despite Lebanon’s troubles, the Institut Français du Liban pressed ahead with the 1st edition of the comic strip festival. (Provided)
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Updated 16 October 2021

Comic book festival draws laughs in Lebanon

Comic book festival draws laughs in Lebanon
  • Drawing, music, illustration and masterclasses on offer as 40 artists from 14 nationalities display their work
  • ‘A country going through troubled times needs artists more than ever,’ says event’s organizer

BEIRUT: Hard-hit Lebanese might be struggling with soaring prices, food shortages and power cuts, but that did not stop the French Institute of Lebanon from pressing ahead with the country’s first comic book festival.

Forty artists representing 14 nationalities came together to show their work, some combining music and drawing. Exhibits in French, Arabic and English were displayed at 20 locations across the capital, including the Sursock Palace and Dagher Villa.

The big names in comics gave master classes to aspiring young talent. (Supplied)

Mathieu Diez, literary director at the institute and a former director of the Lyon comic book festival, said that the Beirut event had to be held “because a country that is going through troubled times needs artists more than ever.”

He added: “Lebanese artists that we reached out to have overwhelmingly responded. It is also an act of resistance.”

Diez said that the positive reaction to the four-day festival, which ended on Oct. 10, has been overwhelming.

“It was founded on a common ground between Western and Arab authors and audiences, and this merger met our greatest hopes.”

The event was held in three languages: French, Arabic and English. (Supplied)

Leading names in the comic world gave masterclasses to emerging talents. Guests included Penelope Bagieu; Charles Berberian, father of the famous “Henriette” series; Fabien Toulme; Mathieu Sapin; and Michele Standjofski, illustrator and head of the illustration section of the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts.

According to Standjofski, the festival gave students the chance to meet and learn from professionals in the sector.

During the opening concert held at the Sursock Palace, Lebanese illustrator Raphaelle Macaron signed the festival poster, and also completed drawings while accompanied by the Acid Arab band, a French group that plays electro-oriental music popular in the Maghreb, Europe and the Middle East.

Macaron said that the festival offered a chance to boost people’s spirits amid the  turmoil in Lebanon.

40 artists from 14 different nationalities are exhibiting their work and experiences. (Supplied)

“I am motivated by certain projects, either because they are liberating for me or because they contribute to the country’s progress. To me, the illuminated lighthouse in the poster represents hope at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

Among many subjects tackled during the festival, the themes that captured most attention were the status of women — an issue that also affects the comic world — and the Lebanese revolution.

The exhibition held in Dar El-Nimer arts center — organized by the Mu’taz and Rada Sawaf Arab Comics Initiative of the American University of Beirut, and managed by illustrator Lina Ghaibeh — allowed the public to explore the new Arab comic book scene through original boards, dozens of magazine copies and individual or collective albums.

Designers from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia were featured in the display.

A number of topics were discussed during the festival (Supplied)

“Arab comics are over a 100 years old, but today’s young illustrators relate their everyday lives,” Ghaibeh said.

“The street is at the center of their creations, because they invaded it during the Arab Spring. They first met through graffiti and social media, then started collaborating. They have revealed themselves, affirmed their identity and managed to make their voices heard.”

For Tunisian illustrator Othman Selmi, the festival offered a chance to “review the problems and challenges to be met,” while Egyptian painter Migo said that the Dar El-Nimer exhibition “allows us to know where we are and what we can reach.”

All agreed the festival was the ideal antidote to the prevailing gloom in the country.

This story was originally published in French on Arab News en Français


Misk Art Week showcases artists from Saudi Arabia and international community

Afra Aldhaheri’s “End of A School Braid” (2021), part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)
Afra Aldhaheri’s “End of A School Braid” (2021), part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)
Updated 03 December 2021

Misk Art Week showcases artists from Saudi Arabia and international community

Afra Aldhaheri’s “End of A School Braid” (2021), part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)
  • For its fifth year, Misk Art Institute’s annual event features several exhibitions exploring the nature of identity

RIYADH: Inside Riyadh’s Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall, multimedia artworks are displayed across the venue’s two floors on the theme of Takween, which means “form” in Arabic, and its relation to one’s identity.

As part of Misk Art Week’s fifth outing, taking place until Dec. 5, artists from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, North Africa and the wider international community present art that questions identity — specifically how an individual’s social, historical and cultural origins influence their past, present and future.

From video works produced with AI to paintings, textile-based art and installations, the art on show aims, according to the Misk Art Institute, to offer a “critical platform for the creative community,” fostering cultural dialogue and intellectual exchange.

As visitors enter the hall, they are confronted by two dark figures by Saudi artist Filwa Nazer, made of black polyethylene industrial netting and titled The Other is Another Body (2021). The figures seem to guard the vibrantly colored wool-weave tapestry work hanging on a wall between them, titled Palm (1985), by American artist Sheila Hicks.

The works are part of Here, Now, the third in a series of the Misk Art Institute’s annual flagship exhibition, curated this time by British writer and curator Sacha Craddock alongside Misk’s assistant curators, Nora Algosaibi and Alia Ahmad Al-Saud.

The show, which features a mix of emerging and established artists and runs until Jan. 30, 2022, is the first in the Saudi capital to present works by both Saudi and international artists, including ones by well-known Saudi artists such as Manal Al-Dowayan’s abstract black and white work, I am Here (2016), Ayman Yossri Daydban’s Tree House (2019), and Sami Ali AlHossein’s colorful abstract figurative works on canvas. There is also a painting by renowned Sudanese painter Salah Elmur titled The Angry Singer (2015) and delicate floral drawings by Korean artist Young In Hong dating to 2009.

While without an overarching narrative, the show prompts the spectator to question, like the exhibition’s title, “why here and why now?” It encourages the visitor to reflect on the artworks and the nature of identity in a reflective, personal and subjective manner.

Upstairs is Under Construction, an exhibition of Misk Art Grant recipients who hail this year from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Algeria. The grant funds up to SR1 million ($266,632) and has been distributed among the nine participating artists and collectives.

Basma Al-Shathry, lead curator at Misk Art Institute, said: “This year’s Misk Art Grant exhibition, ‘Under Construction,’ explores how identity is perceived as an emblem of growth, continuity and endless iterations of cultural representation throughout history. It has been a delight to bring together artists and designers from both the Middle East and North Africa to address the theme as a process of development, repetition, distortion and incompleteness in a time of synthesis, understanding and promise for the future.”

Mira AlMazrooei and Jawaher AlMutairi’s “Glass Libary” (2021). Part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition titled  “Under construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)

The works on show also respond to the theme of identity while focusing on how identity can be perceived as a method for growth and renewal, as well as social and historical continuity, via the incorporation of cultural representations throughout history.

One of the most poignant works is by Emirati artist and designer Latifa Saeed’s Sand Room (2021), which presents an assembly of sand-encased glass panels in the form of a cube that one can enter to observe the desert sand sediments that she collected from construction sites around Dubai.

Latifa Saeed’s “Sand room” (2021). Part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition titled “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)

“My research and work is always about transformation, whether it be of a city or of one’s mentality,” Saeed told Arab News. “I began by building an archive of sand from Dubai because the sites from where I collected the sand we cannot visit anymore because they are now construction sites.

Saeed visited development sites in Dubai, and before the construction started she would collect sand from the area and label it accordingly. She now has more than 200 different types of sand from these areas.

“I am archiving, preserving and documenting the Dubai landscape, topography and the material itself,” she said.

Near to Saeed’s mesmerizing room of sand specimens is Emirati artist Afra Al-Dhaheri’s End of a School Braid (2021) — a large installation of twisted and backcombed off-white colored rope that hangs from the ceiling. In this piece Al-Dhaheri examines how hair can be seen as the keeper of memories, preserving not only time but cultural norms and heritage.

Bahraini artist Noor Alwan’s Sacred Spaces (2021), a series of hanging textile-based tapestry works, similarly seeks to preserve personal and collective memories. Growing up, she would watch her grandfather ritually draw hundreds of patterns on paper — a tradition that stemmed from his childhood and that immersed him in a meditative process of repetition. Alwan recalls his trance-like process of art creation and likens it to a shared Arab collective practice — with elements mirroring the mesmerizing geometric forms of Islamic art.

Nour Alwan’s “Sacred Spaces,” (2021). Part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition titled “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)

Moving into the rapidly developing digital landscape is an engaging work by Saudi artist Obaid Alsafi, titled Beyond Language (2021), in which a poem by the late revered Saudi poet Muhammad Al-Thubaiti Poetry (1952-2011), titled Salutation to the Master of the Arid Land, is transformed into a video work with sound via artificial intelligence. For the work, which captivates the viewer through its colorful abstract images — some seem like palm trees while others appear to be figures — Alsafi trained the AI through data collection and machine learning to understand poetry and produce visual representations of each verse with accompanying machine-made sound.

“The first form of art in the region and the way we connected with each other was through poetry,” Alsafi, an artist who studied computer science, told Arab News. “Al-Thubaiti, one of Saudi’s pioneer poets, changed the way that poetry was written and read. Everyone sees AI as robotic, but my vision, I want to see how we can make the machine more human so that it understands language, learn and develop artwork depending on the vision of the artist. I believe artists can use AI as a tool to develop their work.”

Lastly, there is the second iteration of works created in the Masaha residency program, located in the basement of the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall.

The program, part of Misk Art Institute’s mission to support Saudi and international practitioners across the artistic disciplines in the research and production of new works via mentorship opportunities, can be viewed on the ground floor. Titled HOME: Being and Belonging, the works by 10 visual artists from the UK, Guatemala, Morocco, India, South Korea, and from across Saudi Arabia, examine questions of how an individual and collective sense of belonging and nostalgia for one’s culture and heritage stems from one’s socio-cultural and ethnic background. The works on show explore how our sense of belonging changes and transforms with time.

The residency offers international artists the opportunity to create work on site at Masaha over a three-month cycle. Many of the participating artists are showing their work for the first time in the Kingdom — demonstrating once again Misk Art Institute’s broader aims to expand Saudi Arabia’s cultural landscape through international creative dialogue.

Hana Almilli’s “Through The Earth I Come Back Home” (2021). Part of the Masaha Residency showcase during Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)

 


‘The Houses of Beirut’ — preserving a city’s architectural heritage

The original version of the book, published in both English and French, was, Julie said, popular among the Lebanese. (Supplied)
The original version of the book, published in both English and French, was, Julie said, popular among the Lebanese. (Supplied)
Updated 03 December 2021

‘The Houses of Beirut’ — preserving a city’s architectural heritage

The original version of the book, published in both English and French, was, Julie said, popular among the Lebanese. (Supplied)
  • Why two sisters chose to republish their mother’s children’s book following the Beirut Port explosion

DUBAI: Twenty-four years ago, Nayla Audi published her only book: “The Houses of Beirut.” It was created for children — an oversized book in the shape of a house — but at Dubai Design Week last month, adults, too, were opening the ‘doors’ of its cover to reveal the old-school watercolors (created by Audi’s friend, the painter Flavia Codsi) within. 

The book’s current revival was made possible by Audi’s two daughters, Yasmine and Julie, who published a new edition in the wake of the Beirut Port explosion last year, having found a copy of the book — a nostalgic memento of their childhood — that had survived the damage inflicted on their family home in the city’s Gemmayze neighborhood.

Nayla, Yasmine and Julie Audi. (Supplied)

“It really affected us personally,” Julie, who lives in London, told Arab News. “We thought we needed to do everything we can to preserve this book — to re-edit and try our best for these houses to stay. We grew up taking all these things for granted. But now, with a bit of maturity and age, we also realize that it’s important for us to continue what our mom started.”

The original version of the book, published in both English and French, was, Julie said, popular among the Lebanese. 

“A lot of people in our generation kind of grew up with this book,” she explained. “Through this project, people sent us messages saying: ‘It reminds me of my childhood.’ Or, ‘This was my favorite book growing up.’”

The book’s detailed and idyllic images take the reader through small-but-significant moments of daily life: Students arriving home from school, youngsters running around with the Lebanese flag; a street vendor filling a basket with vegetables, and the serene blue of the sea beside the corniche.

(Supplied)

But, as the name suggests, it is the tall traditional houses with their red-tile roofs and triple arches, which can be seen throughout the streets of the Lebanese capital, that take center stage. 

“She realized how important the heritage houses were in Beirut and how important it was for us — we were very little at the time — to have them as a memory,” Yasmine said.

Many of those heritage houses, some of which were built over a century ago, were seriously affected by the explosion and the sisters have stipulated that all proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Beirut Heritage Initiative, launched in 2020 to restore badly damaged historical buildings.

(Supplied)

Apart from the fact that their mother wrote it, “The Houses of Beirut” is intensely personal to the sisters in other ways. Julie and Yasmine (and their cat) actually feature in the charming, colorful pages and they grew up in one of the depicted heritage houses — the ‘White House’ of the book. 

“The interior has an open, traditional layout — the living room in the middle and the rooms on the side,” Yasmine said. “When we were growing up, the balcony was our favorite place. It was kind of like our playground.”  

For the reprinting of the hand-bound book, the sisters kept the story as it was, (although they printed the English version only) and even turned to the same family-run printing press — Anis, established in the late 1950s — that published it in the first place. Like many businesses in Beirut, Anis was practically destroyed, so getting things off the ground has been a struggle. 

(Supplied)

“We kept coming back to the fact that we’re doing this, also, to help Lebanon,” Yasmine said. “So, why would we print the book somewhere else and not help the actual artisans in Lebanon, who have been affected by the economic crisis and everything that’s been happening?”

Both Julie and Yasmine were born in the US, but feel a strong attachment to Lebanon. They flew to Beirut after the explosion and that experience reinforced their belief in the necessity of chronicling the city’s architectural traditions. 

“It’s this cycle, which is sometimes a bit sad when you’re from Lebanon, of how every generation has to go through these hardships,” said Julie. “There are so many issues nowadays, but preserving our heritage is really important.”


At Jeddah’s Qasr Khuzam, Argentina art event BIENALSUR enthralls with sight, sound and shadow

At Jeddah’s Qasr Khuzam, Argentina art event BIENALSUR enthralls with sight, sound and shadow
Updated 03 December 2021

At Jeddah’s Qasr Khuzam, Argentina art event BIENALSUR enthralls with sight, sound and shadow

At Jeddah’s Qasr Khuzam, Argentina art event BIENALSUR enthralls with sight, sound and shadow
  • More than 30 creative contemporary artworks, including 5 by Saudis, highlight a wide range of themes

JEDDAH: BIENALSUR 2021, the second edition of the cultural event of contemporary art from Argentina to the world, arrived in Jeddah, and residents are in for a breathtaking cultural experience.

Twenty artists from 13 countries are showcasing their work at the exhibit that opened its doors on Dec. 1 at Qasr Khuzam. Hosted by the Ministry of Culture, the exhibition titled “Echoes: A World Between Analogue & Virtual” is composed of immersive works, which play with the visitors’ shadows, the echo of their voices, and the reverberations of the surrounding sounds.

Qasr Khuzam served as the first residence in Jeddah for King Abdulaziz Al-Saud. The palace is characterized by its unique architectural style featuring art nouveau and art deco influences, with large entry halls and symmetrical staircases succeeded by interconnected wings. These attributes serve as a striking backdrop for the exhibition, addressing the acoustic phenomena of echo and reverberation, utilizing them as metaphors for how people naturally move in the world between analog and virtual situations. 

Saudi artist Ahaad Al Alamoudi displays her artwork at the exhibition.

With more than 30 works by artists being showcased, including five by Saudis, the display deals with themes ranging from environmental awareness, artistic politics to transit and migrations.

Organized by the Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero in Buenos Aires under the direction of its rector and passionate art collector, Aníbal Jozami, and the event’s creative director, Diana Wechsler, the second edition of the International Biennial of Contemporary Art of South America was based on a global network of institutional collaboration that erases distances and borders, as well as upholding singularity in diversity.

Both Wechsler and Jozami told Arab News that its presence in Saudi Arabia is part of the dialogues for peace and international integration through art and culture, which BIENALSUR contributes to.

It will be the first time that an exhibition of visual arts, designed to converge with other ways of thinking, is presented to the Saudi public. 

“We want to change the art map of the world, the paradigms. We believe that there are cultural and artistic expressions that have always remained,” said Jozami. “BIENALSUR is the proof that there’s still space for surprising and innovative ideas.”

Wechsler added: “The exhibition seeks to convey to the viewer a reflection on this way of inhabiting the present. This varied selection of artists and works aim to recreate such a flow of the contemporary individual from a poetic dimension. 

“We invite visitors to explore spaces that are not fully acknowledged and to identify images that will arouse surprise and reflection.”

The exhibition “recovering stories, recovering fantasies” occupied most parts of the restored Jeddah Regional Museum architecture building — considered one of the best museums in Jeddah — with works by Saudi artists Ahaad Al-Amoudi, Lina Gazzaz, Felwa Nazer, Muhannad Shono, and Daniah Alsaleh. 

There are also works by Tony Oursler and Chris Larson from the US, Darren Almond from Britain, Argentina’s Matilde Marin; Carola Zech, Hugo Aveta, from Spain. Daniel Canogar and Tanja Demanrom will feature from Croatia. From Switzerland, there is Sève Favre, and from Mexico, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Polish artist Angelika Markul will attend alongside French artists Anais Lelievre, Cecile Bart, and photographer Valérie Jouve. From South Korea there’s Sujin Lim, and Joel Andrianomearisoa from Madagascar.

Among all those international artists, Darren Almond’s work offers two altered modalities of one of the latest ways to display hours as a mode of expressing time digital clocks.

Saudi artist Ahaad Al-Amoudi tries to understand the correlation between light and darkness through her video. “In the piece itself, I am studying how sometimes light is projected to us whether through family or friendships or personal needs and how we stripe toward the light,” she said.

Al-Amoudi introduces the premises that give rise to her video installation, which are focused on how information is shared and at the same time defines us as subjects in society.

South Korean artist Sujin Lim explores the dimensions of change in the natural environment and, along with it, the landscape on another horizon from another island.

While entering her dark exhibition room, Saudi artist Lina Gazzaz’s project “Shadow/Light Room” explores and seeks to capture the action of light on the elements to activate ideas from these lights in different manners.

“The room is part of a larger study that includes different artistic applications such as glass, sculpture, drawings, prints and experiments are still ongoing. The room also is arranged according to the echo system between the 40 images and the number of woods around 2,000 slow careful movements which is part of the experience,” she said.

The exhibitions travel the world to countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Paraguay, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Switzerland, Uruguay, and others.


Young Saudi Artists exhibition presents contemporary calligraphy works

Young Saudi Artists exhibition presents contemporary calligraphy works
Updated 03 December 2021

Young Saudi Artists exhibition presents contemporary calligraphy works

Young Saudi Artists exhibition presents contemporary calligraphy works
  • Artists from across the Kingdom answered the open call for the event and the judging panel selected 19 artists to participate

JEDDAH: The seventh edition of Athr Gallery’s Young Saudi Artists exhibition includes masterpieces by young artists and calligraphers showcasing the wonders of the written form.

The current edition is called “Contemporary Calligraphy” and was curated by Dr. Rawaa Bakhsh. The exhibition falls during the Saudi Ministry of Culture’s Year of Arabic Calligraphy. “We thought it would be appropriate to join the celebration,” Bakhsh told Arab News.

Artists from across the Kingdom answered the open call for the event and the judging panel selected 19 artists to participate. Some already had original works ready to be exhibited, while the others presented their proposals and received help from experts at the gallery to develop and execute their ideas.

Artist Hind Alghamdi carved a wooden wheel-shaped sculpture decorated in Kufic script with the Quranic verse, “Guide us to the straight path,” and was inspired by driving around the Kingdom. “I chose this verse because humans will always be searching for the right path,” Alghamdi said. “This was my first time using this medium and my first time using Kufic script.” 

The seventh edition of Athr Gallery’s Young Saudi Artists exhibition includes masterpieces by young artists and calligraphers. (Supplied)

Another participant, 37-year-old Sama Bahajri, exhibited a piece called “As Promised.” It consists of an embroidered textile that is bright white at the top and becomes progressively darker towards the bottom. The darkness, she explained, represents “evil thoughts,” while her embroidered circles reflect how such thoughts can gather.

“This is a visual interpretation of the verse where God promises Prophet Mohammad that He will protect him against the people who were plotting to kill him,” Bahajri explained to Arab News.

Not all the pieces on display were inspired by Quranic verses. An eye-catching work by Zainab Alshibani titled “1001 Nights” was inspired by anthropomorphic and zoomorphic Arabic scripts. 

The seventh edition of Athr Gallery’s Young Saudi Artists exhibition includes masterpieces by young artists and calligraphers. (Supplied)

The YSA program, which began in 2011, aims to promote Saudi-based artists on the international stage. The program is designed to help young artists conceptualize their work and develop their projects while allowing them to exhibit in a professional context, collaborate with a curator, and expose their work to criticism and the marketplace.

“YSA has had many contemporary artists that are now big names in the art world. Our founders contributed in creating a beautiful batch of contemporary artists that are now internationally known,” Bakhsh said.


‘Jews of the East’ Paris exhibition traces group’s centuries-long presence in Arab world

A Jewish wedding party on the street next to the synagogue in Wadi Abu Jamil, Beirut, June 2 1957. (João Luis Koifman)
A Jewish wedding party on the street next to the synagogue in Wadi Abu Jamil, Beirut, June 2 1957. (João Luis Koifman)
Updated 02 December 2021

‘Jews of the East’ Paris exhibition traces group’s centuries-long presence in Arab world

A Jewish wedding party on the street next to the synagogue in Wadi Abu Jamil, Beirut, June 2 1957. (João Luis Koifman)

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron recently attended the opening of an exhibition in Paris that traces Jewish presence in the Arab world.

“Jews of the East, a Multi-Millennial History,” hosted by the Arab World Institute (IMA), has been billed as a “cultural event of international significance.” It includes displays of archaeological remains, liturgical objects, jewelry, costumes, ancient manuscripts, paintings, and photographs, along with music and audiovisual installations.

For Macron, the show provides a “great lesson” about “coexistence, mutual enrichment and exchanges between monotheisms.” He said: “Identity is always more complex than we think and feeds of other identities.”

A Jewish girls school in Baghdad around 1900. (Photothèque de l’Alliance Israélite Universelle (Paris), n° 165, Collection Liliane Alazraki)

The exhibition, which runs until March 13, contains works from collections in France, the US, Spain, the UK, Belgium, Brazil, and Morocco, and highlights the ancestral cohabitation between Jewish and Muslim communities. It focuses on periods of rich artistic and intellectual creativity as well as erratic violence.

Of particular interest to Saudi visitors will be three photographs of the Khaybar Oasis — located on a major caravan route in the Hejaz. In ancient times, it was home to Jewish tribes. “Today, there is a French team of archaeologists undertaking research on the spot to better understand this complex history of Jews and Muslims in this historic place, with the consent of the Saudi authorities,” IMA president Jack Lang told Arab News.

The curator of the exhibition, Benjamin Stora, is a university professor and historian specializing in the Arab Maghreb. He explained that Jews were present in North Africa before the arrival of Christianity. “The Jewish community in the Arab Maghreb spoke only in Arabic, except in certain regions where they either spoke Berber or a mixture of Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic,” he said.

This intersection of the three languages reflects the cohabitation of communities which included expatriate rabbis from Andalusia who settled in Tlemcen, Constantine, and other cities in the Maghreb. 

Jewish people, he said, left an “undeniable imprint” on the culture of the region, especially when it came to craftsmanship. “My ancestors, originally from Constantine, were jewelers and made snake-shaped objects that women wore at parties and weddings,” he explained.

The Jewish Bride of Rabat-Salé, Salé (Morocco), 1934-1939. (IMA: Jean Bescancenot)

Discussing political and religious tensions between the two communities, he said: “The period of French colonization and the Cremieux Decree of 1870 (granting French citizenship to Algerian Jews but not to Muslims) marked the separation of these two native groups, Muslim and Jewish.” That separation was exacerbated by Algeria’s war of independence, he added, which saw many Jews side with France.

The subject of a Jewish presence in the Arab world is, of course, an emotional and thorny topic for many, and Lang stressed that “the exhibition absolutely does not address the political questions of today.” But Stora, who has spent more than 40 years researching the contemporary history of the Maghreb region, stressed the need to preserve cultural history. “We cannot reduce this to the Palestinian issue, to colonization, or to the departure of the Jews. It is also a question of preserving memories, which cannot wait for all political questions to be resolved.”

His sentiments were echoed by Lang, who said: “This institute can only truly fulfil its vocation if it is open to all the spiritual and intellectual heritages that have marked the history of the Arab world.”

A postcard from 1910 showing the inside of the Grand Synagogue in Aleppo. (Gross Family Collection trust)

Denis Charbit, a professor of political science at the Open University of Israel and a specialist in 20th-century Jewish history, said the exhibition had an important role to play in the fight against ignorance and pointed out that the Jewish presence alongside Arab and Berber populations dated back 2,000 years, adding that it was “necessary” to integrate the exile of Jews from Arab countries into the exhibition and to ensure that the region’s cultural history is passed on to future generations.

“It is not a question of a single history, a single religion, a single culture, but a plurality of interventions, cultures, civilizations of languages, as well as a passage of populations,” he said.

“Never before has the history of the Jews in these countries, which have become Arab countries today, been told on a millennial scale,” Lang said. “It is a way of repairing ignorance, of showing that the Arab world has a rich religious and cultural history, which fashioned its originalit