Who Was Karimeh Abbud? Part 1

By Mary Pelletier

A quick Google search reveals an oft-repeated, neat little biography for Karimeh Abbud, complete with an image of her, stood next to a large-format camera, shutter release in hand.  Karimeh was allegedly the first female photographer in Palestine, born in 1896 to an esteemed, intellectual family who resided in Bethlehem. She also went by the title ‘Lady Photographer’, and proudly stamped the moniker on her prints. Seeing this calling card, I was hooked – how had Karimeh managed to make her mark in the old boys’ club of Holy Land photography practice?

Karimeh Abbud and her camera, Haifa, 1920s. Photo by C. Swaid (Source: Ahmad Mrowat, Jerusalem Quarterly, Issue 31, p.72)

Karimeh Abbud and her camera, Haifa, 1920s. Photo by C. Swaid (Source: Ahmad Mrowat, Jerusalem Quarterly, Issue 31, p.72)

The biographical information about Karimeh online was surprisingly one-dimensional. She had worked throughout Palestine, making her studio in Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, specialising in photographs of women and families. Articles stated her importance with certainty, but I was curious as to the source of this information – did it come from her family? Who had declared her the ‘first’ Palestinian female photographer, or as some claimed, the first female to run a photographic business in the Middle East? What had happened to her photographs, and why weren’t they in a museum collection somewhere?

Karimeh Abbud studio stamp (Source: Ahmad Mrowat, Jerusalem Quarterly, Issue 31, p.72)

Karimeh Abbud studio stamp (Source: Ahmad Mrowat, Jerusalem Quarterly, Issue 31, p.72)

With funding from the PEF, I got right down to asking anyone in Bethlehem and Jerusalem with photography knowledge who would listen – where can I find Karimeh Abbud and her photographs? Articles from the Jerusalem Quarterly and online sources cited the Nazareth Archive Project and Ahmad Mrowat as being the source of the research. The Nazareth Archive Project was said to house Karimeh’s work, but phone numbers to Mrowat were disconnected, as were phone numbers I tracked down for family members who were said to have helped compile this initial information, circa 2007.

Photograph of two unknown women taken by Karimeh Abbud (Source: Issam Nassar, Jerusalem Quarterly Issue 46, p.23)

Photograph of two unknown women taken by Karimeh Abbud (Source: Issam Nassar, Jerusalem Quarterly Issue 46, p.23)

Karimeh’s name seemed to be one that everyone knew – but no one knew much about. One Palestinian photography collector let out a long sigh when I asked him what he knew of Karimeh’s work, citing that her reputation had been overblown – her studio photographs were nothing special, photographically speaking.  I disagreed – I had been attracted to Abbud’s photographs because those I had seen online seemed much more intimate than the stage-y, directed portraiture of Jerusalem photographers like Khalil Ra’ad.

Looking at photographs from Issam Nassar’s collection, reproduced here, the subjects of her photographs seem to exude a comfort, both with their partners and with the photographer herself – as though the taking of the picture is not a transaction, but instead a sort of collaborative effort. (Nassar has written further on Abbud in the larger context of Middle Eastern portraiture in the Jerusalem Quarterly, cited below).

That skeptical collector also put me in touch with Rev. Mitri Raheb, head of Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, and, as it turned out, Karimeh’s unintentional biographer.

This photograph printed on carte postale has the stamp of Karimeh Abbud. It was sent with a note on the back to Um Diabis Abbud on October 30th, 1930 from Dmitri, whose last name is not legible. (Source: Issam Nassar, Jerusalem Quarterly Issue 46, p.28)

This photograph printed on carte postale has the stamp of Karimeh Abbud. It was sent with a note on the back to Um Diabis Abbud on October 30th, 1930 from Dmitri, whose last name is not legible. (Source: Issam Nassar, Jerusalem Quarterly Issue 46, p.28)

Meeting with Rev. Raheb helped to set some things straight about Karimeh’s biography – his book, a limited-print run paperback written in Arabic and with a foreword by Ahmad Mrowat, charts her life through Lutheran church records. He sets a clear picture of her life’s trajectory, her family life, the chances afforded her by her family’s status, even her marriage – many things left out of any online articles. All of the context afforded by Rev. Raheb’s publication is important, especially when considering the style of Karimeh’s subjects and her mobility.

Undated image of Abbud Family Members, taken by Karimeh Abbud. (Source: Raheb, Karimeh Abbud, p. 45)

Undated image of Abbud Family Members, taken by Karimeh Abbud. (Source: Raheb, Karimeh Abbud, p. 95)

:Undated image of Abbud Family Members, taken by Karimeh Abbud. (Source: Raheb, Karimeh Abbud, p. 44)

Undated image of Abbud Family Members, taken by Karimeh Abbud. (Source: Raheb, Karimeh Abbud, p. 94)

The images in the book had come from two Abbud family photographic albums. These two undated images, taken by Abbud herself, are reproduced on pages 94 & 95 of Raheb’s publication and demonstrate Abbud’s signature portraiture environment – the women here are comfortable with each other, but also with Abbud’s presence. It is obvious in both images that their proximity to one another demonstrate a close relationship – most likely mother and daughters, and then the two sisters, alone – but we also see that Abbud treated her familial subjects in the same way she treated her paying clients, and vice versa – there is a warm professionalism that plays out in each of these different sets of images.

It is the foreword by Mrowat in this text that seemed curious to me, however. Where earlier articles by Mrowat stated he had acquired ‘some 400’ Abbud photographs from an Israeli photography collector, this text (published 2011) noted a legal case brought against him by the same Israeli collector. He states that the collector had no right to keep the photos, as he was not related to her in any way. This calls into question the amount of weight placed on earlier claims for the archive in his articles – who actually owned the pictures that were being written about, did the author have permission from the owner(s) to use them, and were the claims accurate? Does the Nazareth Archive Project exist outside of articles bearing its name?

There are many outstanding questions I am in the process of answering – beginning with gaining access to the ‘some 400’ photographs that were the subject of this legal case. A ‘Part 2’ will be forthcoming!

Further reading:

Mrowat, A. 2007. “Karimeh Abbud: Early Woman Photographer (1896-1955).” Jerusalem Quarterly 31: 72-78.

Nassar, I. 2011. “Early Photography in Palestine: The Legacy of Karimeh Abbud.” Jerusalem Quarterly 46: 23-31.

Raheb, M. 2011. Karimeh Abbud: Pioneer Female Phographer of Palestine. Bethlehem, Palestine: Diyar Consortium. Print. Arabic language.

The PEF is Camera Ready for Raising Horizons

By Amara Thornton, Leonora Saunders, Felicity Cobbing and Becky Wragg Sykes

Last month the four women behind Trowelblazers, a digital platform for crowd-sourced biographies of pioneering women in archaeology, geology and palaeonology, in collaboration with photographer Leonora Saunders launched a new project, Raising Horizons.  Supported by Prospect, Raising Horizons will feature a photographic exhibition, oral histories and associated events celebrating the long history of women working in these subjects.

Fourteen women actively working in archaeology, geology and paleontology today have been paired with a historical counterpart. Leonora and Trowelblazers have been working together to resurrect these historical women, creating new portraits as their modern ‘pairs’ represent them in costume. Their goal is to highlight the diversity of the fields today, and provide role models for younger generations while referencing and paying homage to the women who came before them.

One of the historic figures included is Kathleen Kenyon who as Director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem led excavations at Jericho in the 1950s and Jerusalem in the 1960s. Kenyon is being portrayed by the archaeologist Shahina Farid, who as Field Director  conducted excavations at the site of Çatalhöyük, Turkey between the 1990s and 2012.  Both have been instrumental in training the next generation of archaeologists.

Final touches complete Shahina's Kathleen Kenyon 'look'. Courtesy of Leonora Saunders/Raising Horizons.

Final touches complete Shahina’s Kathleen Kenyon ‘look’. Courtesy of Raising Horizons.

Setting up the shot - getting ready to shoot Shahina as Kathleen. Courtesy of Leonora Saunders/Raising Horizons.

Setting up the shot – getting ready to shoot Shahina as Kathleen. Courtesy of Raising Horizons.

Close up shot of the PEF camera. Courtesy of

Close up shot of the PEF camera. Courtesy of Raising Horizons.

For the Farid/Kenyon portrait, the PEF loaned its Sands Hunter & Co camera with Zeiss lens which once belonged to the archaeologist John Garstang.  Garstang used it on site at Jericho in the 1930s, so the camera has historic significance for the portrait. His wife Marie Louise Bergès Garstang, who excavated alongside him after their marriage in 1907, is also represented in the archive. Their daughter Meroe Garstang – named after one of the most important sites her parents excavated – also joined them on site at Jericho.

Marie Garstang excavating at Jericho, 1931. (PEF-P-GAR-JER-J.31)

Marie Garstang excavating at Jericho, 1931. (Garstang archive, Palestine Exploration Fund)

Another fantastic photograph in the Liverpool University Garstang Museum shows Marie Garstang excavating with her husband at Meroe in Sudan where they worked in the years immediately before the First World War. His and hers pith helmets, placed side by side at the edge of the trench, echo their working relationship captured in the image.

A number of institutions are supporting the Raising Horizons project, but Trowelblazers is actively crowdfunding to enable the project to go on tour and support associated events in these locations.  A full list of institutional supporters can be found on Trowelblazers website – but you can help support the project at their Indiegogo page.  A range of bespoke rewards have been sourced to accompany donations.

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Rebecca Wragg Sykes, Brenna Hassett, Suzanne Pilaar Birch and Tori Herridge founded Trowelblazers in 2013. Find out more about them at Trowelblazers.com. Read more about Raising Horizons in the Guardian.

Watch the Raising Horizons Fundraiser video.

Discover the connections between Shahina Farid and Kathleen Kenyon.

Learn more about Leonora’s work at her website: http://www.leonorasaunders.co.uk/

Pilgrim Camps on the Hajj Roads to Mecca

By Claudine Dauphin

The Desert is green! My arrival in Jordan on 13th April 2016 coincided with hail, strong winds, lashing rain and intense cold, turning the semi-arid desert immediately south of Amman into a green carpet (Fig. 1). Courtesy of global warming, three days later, it was full Summer and a ‘‘baptism by fire’’ at 38°C in the shade for my first day of fieldwork on the camps of the Darb al-Hajj al-Shami, the ‘‘Syrian’’ Pilgrimage route running from Damascus to Mecca and bisecting Jordan lengthwise.

Fig. 1A green desert, mid-April 2016 (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 1 A green desert, mid-April 2016 (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Following the central ridge of Jordan, which was densely populated in Antiquity, the original ‘‘Mediaeval’’ road (7th-15th centuries) incorporated stretches of the Iron Age and Nabatean Kings’ Highway and of the Roman Via Nova Triana. It was replaced in the 16th century by the Ottoman route further east into the desert, with which the Hijaz Railway competed between 1900 and 1918 (Figs 2 and 3).

Fig. 2Hijaz Railway Mafraq Station (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 2 Hijaz Railway Mafraq Station (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 3Original Hijaz train carriage in wood, exhibited in the courtyard of The Jordan Museum, Amman (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 3 Original Hijaz train carriage in wood, exhibited in the courtyard of The Jordan Museum, Amman (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

In 2014, I had followed the Ottoman Darb al-Hajj by taxi and on foot from Ramtha on the Syrian border southwards (425 kms or 264 miles), section by section between historically-attested stop-overs, whilst checking the changes in the landscapes pre-detected on geological and pedological maps, aerial photographs and Google Earth. This Spring, I put my steps into those of Ottoman pilgrims returning from Mecca, starting at the fort of Qala’at Mudawwara (Fig. 4) on the border with Saudi Arabia, thus reversing the order of the 12 stop-overs, and focused on the open-air encampments, which I had reconstructed on paper from the descriptions of 19th century travellers, J.L. Burckhardt and Ch. Doughty, Arab, Persian and Indian illuminated manuscripts and miniatures, and early photographs.

Fig. 4DAoJ surveyor Qutaiba al-Dasouqi looking down to the Ottoman fort of Qala’at Mudawwara. The pilgrim camp filled the vast expanse surrounding it (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 4 DAoJ surveyor Qutaiba al-Dasouqi looking down to the Ottoman fort of Qala’at Mudawwara. The pilgrim camp filled the vast expanse surrounding it (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

How is it possible to locate the bases of tents and hearths in a wilderness of sand and rocks? Setting information, culled, with an official permit, in the archives of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (DAoJ) against RAF 1953 aerial photographs provided by the Royal Jordanian Geographic Centre, I applied British methods of Historic Landscape recording and interpretation (walking the entire area, detecting features thanks to slanting afternoon light, recording by GPS, measuring, drawing and photography). DAoJ surveyor Qutaiba al-Dasouqi and I plotted access from the main Hajj road or via secondary paths, determined the extent of each camp and defined its natural limits (wadi or terracing), recorded hearths, traces of tents, enclosures for the camels, donkeys, mules and horses of the Hajj caravan, which in its 16th-18th century heyday, comprised some 60,000 pilgrims and 80,000 camels.

Fig. 5 Goats feeding on bushes on the Darb al-Hajj at Qala’at al-Hasa. The kerb is visible between the two goats (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 5 Goats feeding on bushes on the Darb al-Hajj at Qala’at al-Hasa. The kerb is visible between the two goats (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Most exciting was recording al-Hasa: under a blazing sun, walking across the Ottoman bridge, along the Hajj road with its revetment of pebbles and flint (Fig. 5), and its drainage system, past the Ottoman fort and onto the pilgrim camp, measuring the circuit wall of an immense camel enclosure, picking out the faint outlines of octogonal and rectangular tents between artemisia bushes, with a cooking-hearth outside the entrance of each tent, gave me a real sense of Time abolished, a feeling of reaching out to the daily routine of 18th century pilgrims on the Darb al-Hajj. My greatest reward, however, was the discovery of the actual Hajj road (Fig. 6) running past Qala’at Daba, between the pilgrim encampment (also a First) and the modern tarmac road, and uphill towards Zizya.

Fig. 6 View of Qala’at Daba from the just-discovered Hajj road in the foreground. Between it and the Ottoman fort, to the left, lay the pilgrim camp (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

Fig. 6 View of Qala’at Daba from the just-discovered Hajj road in the foreground. Between it and the Ottoman fort, to the left, lay the pilgrim camp (Photo and © C. Dauphin)

In comparison, the camps of the Mediaeval Darb al-Hajj were more difficult to reconnoitre and delimit securely, the majority of them having been absorbed by sprawling urbanisation (Ramtha, Qasr Shabib in Zarka, al-Thaniyya now part of al-Karak, and Zizya), which has eradicated nearly all evidence of pilgrims’ resting places. It required a much greater leap of imagination to give physical substance to descriptions of the camps by Mediaeval Hajj pilgrims, such as the famous Ibn Battuta (Tangiers 1304-Morocco 1368-69 or 1377) who travelled on the ‘‘Syrian’’ Hajj road in 1326.

As dusk fell on the faint traces of the pilgrim camps, the ears of my imagination could still hear the clatter of the cooking and eating in front of the tents, the growling of camels and the neighing of horses, donkeys and mules, as they settled down to sleep before yet another gruelling day’s walk to the next stop-over on the road to Mecca.

The Palestinian Museum in Ramallah

By Felicity Cobbing (Palestine Exploration Fund)

On Wednesday 18th May, the new state-of-the-art building of Palestinian Museum at Birzeit University in Ramallah was officially unveiled, and I was lucky enough to be one of those invited to the celebrations. The museum project began life in 1997 as an idea conceived by Taawon – Welfare Association, a not-for-profit organisation with members from across the Palestinian and Arab world, which supports numerous welfare and cultural projects of incredible diversity in Palestine and Arab communities in Israel. Originally the museum was envisaged as a response to the Nakba, or ‘Disaster’ of 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced, and many were killed during the birth of the state of Israel. However, over time, the idea grew to encompass a wider and more positive vision of Palestinian heritage throughout time.

4 Palestinian Museum 1

Panorama of the Palestinian Museum.

The Museum is situated on a 40,000 square metre plot of land donated to it by neighbouring Birzeit University on a long-term lease. It is funded entirely by several independent organisations, including Taawon and the Qattan Foundation. Currently, the museum building is just a building (albeit a rather beautiful one), which has raised eyebrows in some quarters. Some have questioned the wisdom of opening the building prior to having anything to show. However, talking to those involved, the pride in the achievement so far was palpable, and deserving of its own recognition. The opening of the building was a declaration to the world that Palestinians are capable of great things, despite the obstacles put in their path, and are worthy of ambitious and sophisticated projects such as this. The building is in itself is a huge statement of cultural intent. As Oliver Wainwright writing in the Guardian says, it is a “beacon of optimism”.

5 Palestinian Museum 3

The opening ceremony at the Palestinian Museum.

It is anticipated that the museum’s staff, led by its new Director, Dr. Mahmoud Hawari (formerly of the Khalili Institute in Oxford and the British Museum), will now work on building a programme of diverse exhibitions and events, working closely with other institutions both in Palestine and internationally. A satellite exhibition curated by Rachel Dedman entitled ‘At the Seams: A Political History of Palestinian Embroidery’ has already opened at the Dar el Nimer gallery in Beirut. Back in Ramallah, Dr. Hawari’s vision is to create a museum which enables everyone, including Palestinians, to see connections and continuities between the ancient past and the modern world. He is keen to build a non-nationalistic narrative, which is inclusive of the many diverse peoples and traditions of the region. The Palestinian Museum’s logo, a graphic speech bubble, is the perfect symbol to express this intent. This process is bound to take time, and is going to be a challenging balancing act for the new team to achieve.

From talking to people at the event, what was very apparent was the urgent need for a venue for young people in which to have a voice. The lack of safe spaces for Palestinians to express themselves artistically and creatively has been chronic, and it is envisaged that the new museum will provide such a venue for modern creative expression alongside the traditional idea of a museum as an exhibition space for displays of artefacts and art. If the Palestinian Museum can marry these different functions into a successful whole, then it could provide an interesting and innovative model for other museum developments internationally.

6 Palestinian Museum 2

The sun sets on the Palestinian Museum’s botanical garden.

Certainly, the 3,500 square metre eco-friendly building, designed by Dublin architectural firm Heneghan Peng has flexibility built in, with education space, an outside amphitheatre and terrace, and an extensive and beautiful terraced garden which links the new strikingly modern structure, with the limestone terraces of the surrounding hills. The garden is in itself an exhibit, featuring the rich botanical and agricultural heritage of the region, which The new building is itself a geometric take on the same terraces, and so the whole is a wonderfully conceived marriage between über modern design and ancient agricultural landscape, with a stunning view over the limestone hills of Palestine and Israel down to the Mediterranean cost and the high rise towers of Tel Aviv. An expansion of the existing building is envisaged in the future, possibly in other venues internationally, depending on the evolving needs of the museum and its visiting public.

A Visit to The Israel Museum

By Jamie Fraser (The British Museum)

While passing through Jerusalem in May, I managed a brief visit to The Israel Museum, currently celebrating its 50th year. Standing on the summit of a hill opposite the Knesset in West Jerusalem, the museum has an extensive archaeological wing containing materials spanning the early Stone Age to the Ottoman period, as well as wings for Jewish culture and contemporary art.

The promenade and water feature leading to the Israel Museum.

I last visited the Israel Museum in 2007, and recall vividly the thrill of standing in front of the famous Chalcolithic treasure hoard from Nahal Mishmar, including its spectacular copper sceptres and crowns. Now one of the museum’s most prized displays, the hoard was found in a cave above the Dead Sea, and probably constitutes the ritual paraphernalia cached from a temple at Ein Gedi nearby.

The 2010 refurbishments

The museum has since received a US$100 million refurbishment, mostly from private funds. I was surprised to see fewer objects on display, and sections once devoted to Judaica and Jewish ethnography are now housed in the wing devoted to “Jewish Art and Life”. The archaeological artefacts that remain are, however, better contextualized within broader themes such as the emergence of farming, or the development of written scripts.

These changes represent a significant shift in the museum’s philosophy, and have been driven by Director James S. Snyder. When Snyder walked into the museum in 1997, he found a collection that emphasised the “Land-of-Israel”. When he steps down in 2017, Snyder will leave galleries that instead explore the pluralities of “the Land” – a concept used extensively throughout the Museum’s English translations. As the New York Times reported upon the completion of the refurbishments in 2010:

today, here in the capital of the Jewish state, there is a tendency to see the world purely through Jewish history and culture. That is precisely what Mr Snyder…has sought to avoid. Rather, he has emphasized the commonalities of cultures and tries to place Jewish history and practices in a broader and clearer context”.

No better is this philosophy seen than in three reconstructed Byzantine structures, where part of a restored synagogue stands adjacent to both the apse of a church and the prayer niche of a mosque, emphasising distinctiveness and commonalities together.

Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story

I was particularly keen to revisit the museum to view the current exhibition “Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story”. Drawing on over 680 objects, this exhibition explores the often fractious relationship between Egypt and Canaan in the 2nd millennium BC. It focusses particularly on the Canaanite Hyksos dynasty that ruled the eastern Nile delta from c.1800-1550 BC, and on the heavy imperial response that followed, in which Canaan fell under Egyptian rule for 300 years. A particular highlight is the basalt stele of Seti I, which details the Egyptian victory over a Canaanite confederacy near Beth Shan, including a mysterious group of people called the apiru, which many scholars identify as a forerunner to the later Hebrew tribes.

The exhibition has generated considerable controversy for its treatment of the Exodus, the best known part of the Egyptian-Canaanite story. Strikingly, the gallery devoted to this issue stands empty. The lone exhibit is a short video display, in which the exhibition’s curator, Dr Daphna Ben-Tor, explains that the gallery is devoid of artefacts because there are simply no archaeological materials to support the Biblical account.

It is here, perhaps, that the museum’s philosophy under Snyder is most apparent. While the video does not accept the Biblical story, neither does it reject it completely; rather, it seeks to place the story within its historical and cultural contexts. Drawing on the familiar arguments of archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, the presentation looks to the expulsion of the Canaanite Hyksos tribes in c.1550 BC as the kernel of truth around with the Biblical Exodus myth would later accrete.

Nevertheless, this laudable appreciation for nuance and context contrasts a different story of competing narratives in a contested land. The exhibition includes several key pieces from the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum (formerly the Palestine Archaeological Museum) in East Jerusalem. The transference of these artefacts to the Israel Museum in West Jerusalem is controversial and breaches international law. While the Israel Museum explores for the first time the role of Pharaoh in Canaan, perhaps the greater “untold story” remains the stewardship of archaeological materials in occupied territorial zones.

The octagonal tower of the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem.

The octagonal tower of the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem.

Built during the British Mandate period, the Palestine Archaeological Museum also housed the Department of Antiquities.

Built during the British Mandate period, the Palestine Archaeological Museum also housed the Department of Antiquities. This incised sign is outside the entrance to the museum.

Exhibition Review: The Missing

By Felicity Cobbing (PEF Executive Secretary & Curator)

The Missing: Rebuilding the Past 15th April -7th May 2016

4 Mandeville Place, Marylebone, London. www.jessicacarlisle.com

The PEF has a new neighbour in the form of an art gallery, run by Jessica Carlisle and Valerie Wallersteiner, located just round the corner from our offices. Their first exhibition, The Missing: Rebuilding the Past is curated by Erin Thompson, Professor of Art Crime at the City University of New York.

I visited the exhibition which has received quite a bit of publicity following the erection of the replica Palmyrene arch in Trafalgar Square.

The Missing is a response from artists to the recent destruction of ancient monuments and art by so-called Islamic State (ISIS or DAESH), and examines the nature of this loss, what it can mean for humanity, and how the artefacts themselves are transformed by this action.

There were several artist’s work on display, each offering a very different response to current events.

Fig 1: James Brooks, Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, 2016, 7-system based audio works and generic Google image search; dimensions variable; edition of 1. Photo by Tom Carter.

Fig 1: James Brooks, Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, 2016, 7-system based audio works and generic Google image search; dimensions variable; edition of 1. Photo by Tom Carter.

James Brooks Stoic Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is a multi-media work combining an image of Palmyra with a soundtrack, alongside quotes from the Roman philosopher-emperor’s Meditations. It is an introspective work, which acknowledges our feelings of loss when such monuments are destroyed, but also puts this loss in a wider historical perspective.

Fig 2: Dimitra Ermeidou, Demos - for a Hall of Portraits I-IV, 2013, Archival pigment print, 28 x 24 inches. Photo by Tom Carter.

Fig 2: Dimitra Ermeidou, Demos – for a Hall of Portraits I-IV, 2013, Archival pigment print, 28 x 24 inches. Photo by Tom Carter.

Dimitra Ermeidou’s evocative photographs of defaced Greek relief sculptures from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens forms Demos – for a Hall of Portraits. The images form a collection of rather ghostly figures, like memories of once living people whose features and unique characteristics are slowly fading from the collective consciousness. The sculptures were vandalised by persons unknown, at some time in the past. They are a timely reminder that iconoclasm is not confined to any one group of people or set of beliefs. It is a part of human nature to destroy as much as it is to create.

Also on display is a small 3D printed version of the replica Palmyrene arch currently erected in Trafalgar Square, and next to be displayed in Time Square New York. Created by the Oxford Institute of Digital Archaeology, using images taken on low-cost, easy to use 3D cameras distributed to activists in Syria, it provides an example of the possibilities that technology can bring to the process of reconstruction envisaged in the future. Through the Million Image database, an international project supported by UNESCO, similar activities are taking place in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt.

Fig 3: Piers Secunda, ISIS Bullet Hole Painting (Assyrian Head), 2015, Industrial floor paint and metal fixtures, 73 x 100 x 3.5 cm. Photo by Tom Carter.

Fig 3: Piers Secunda, ISIS Bullet Hole Painting (Assyrian Head), 2015, Industrial floor paint and metal fixtures, 73 x 100 x 3.5 cm. Photo by Tom Carter.

A stunning piece by Piers Secunda shows a replica of an Assyrian relief, and then the same relief punctured by bullet holes. The holes are casts of damage caused to ancient monuments in Iraqi Kurdistan by DAESH fighters seeking to destroy cultural heritage in the region. Bizarrely, the damaged piece is in some ways as beautiful as its pristine pristine: perhaps a commentary that imperfection and the marks of history have their own resonance and beauty. Maybe it is a question as to whether we should be quite so enthusiastic about instantly ‘restoring’ everything to its former glory – as if to wipe out the reality of DAESH’s barbarism? After all, we do preserve some icons of extreme pain, such as the remains of Auschwitz, to serve as a permanent reminder of what took place there, and what should never be allowed to happen again. Would a total ‘restoration’ in itself be a form of iconoclasm, wiping out as it would all traces of this horrendous moment in our history?

Our cultural heritage is not just threatened by destruction from bombs and guns and fanatics wielding hammers. Erin Thompson has been collecting images from social media of ancient artefacts for sale on the antiquities market – a trade which the whole world is complicit in, and one in which London is a major player. Artefacts which have been looted are made untraceable through cleaning and falsification of records, and sold for profit in an illegal trade which causes huge damage to our shared cultural heritage. Ironically, the images of looted artefacts posted by middle-men on social media to aid the sale of these antiquities, form an ‘image trail’ which Erin is tracking, in the hope that some artefacts may be identified. A selection of these images is displayed in the exhibition. The installation covers a whole wall, but forms a tiny fraction of the data that Erin has collected.

In amongst all the publicity surrounding the destruction of monuments in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, and events such as the erection of a replica of the Palmyrene triumphal arch in Trafalgar Square, there has been some criticism that perhaps artefacts of the past mean more to some of us than living people – what about the inhabitants of Tadmor (the modern town next to the ancient site of Palmyra, for instance? Don’t they matter? Is their suffering ignored because of the focus on things?

These are relevant questions to ask, and they deserve thinking about. It is a terrible thing to learn that whilst a media circus surrounded a pile of stones, the suffering and circumstances of living people are actually being ignored.

The monuments of ancient Palmyra, Aleppo or Nineveh are the palpable remains of human civilisation. I think that by studying them and visiting them we learn to appreciate the achievements of our fellow human beings who just happen to have lived in the past. In my very humble opinion, they are inherently important as reminders of our shared humanity. Iconoclasts – whether they be those of the past or modern day – want to deny that shared humanity. Our desire to recreate (in some way) what has been destroyed of our cultural heritage is a natural reaction, and has a place alongside the efforts to restore some sort of normality to those whose lives have been shattered. It is not, and should not be, an ‘either / or’ situation. I think it is very true that the inhabitants and custodians of Palmyra – Tadmor, Aleppo, and those cities and towns in Iraq where monasteries and mosques have been destroyed, feel their loss with an intensity that we lucky souls elsewhere can only begin to imagine. Some of them have died trying to protect them. In wanting to help mend them, we are sharing a little of their pain.

Fig 4: Exhibition installation including The Umayyad Mosque, Tmam Alkhidaiwi Alnabilsi, 2015, found materials, 120 x 75 cm. Photo by Tom Carter.

Fig 4: Exhibition installation including The Umayyad Mosque, Tmam Alkhidaiwi Alnabilsi, 2015, found materials, 120 x 75 cm. Photo by Tom Carter.

This reality, that these monuments matter profoundly, and constitute a visible and lasting metaphor for human life and memory which are in themselves so transient and fragile, was made very apparent to me at the exhibition in the form of a model of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, made by Tmam Alkhidaiwi Alnabilsi, a 25 year old Syrian refugee currently living at Zaatari Camp just outside Jordan. The model was featured in an article in The Guardian by Charlie Dunmore entitled ‘How art is helping Syrian refugees keep their culture alive’. The Umayyad Mosque, a unique and beautiful example of very early Islamic architecture, has suffered extensive damage, caught in the cross-fire of Syria’s ongoing civil war – an accidental victim rather than the intended target. The building is the latest incarnation of religious structures on the site that go back to at least the second millennium BCE, if not earlier. This destruction is such a tragedy.

Fig 5: The Umayyad Mosque in 1999. Photo by Felicity Cobbing.

Fig 5: The Umayyad Mosque in 1999. Photo by Felicity Cobbing.

I remember visiting the mosque on several occasions in happier years. As a visitor to Syria, it was one of my favourite places. What was so lovely was not just the beauty of the building itself, or the exquisite green and gold mosaics which adorned it, but how this place was alive as the true heart of the city. All were welcome. Children played and scholars studied verses of the Koran. Grannies chatted, and new parents brought their precious new bundles of life to be blessed. The place was filled with the echoes of whispering clerics and quietly laughing children. It was a privilege to witness Syrian life at its very best, and to see the part this wonderful historic building played in it. Tmam’s model is a homage to all of this – to the life of the building as much to the building itself. It is a symbol for all that Syria has lost. Remarkable in its accuracy, it is made from bits of plywood, food crates, and kebab sticks: anything that came to hand in the camp. Tmam clearly knows this building intimately, and his model is an expression of his relationship with it. It is a deeply moving artefact.

There are plans to take this exhibition travelling after its London stint, and a fine thing that would be. The exhibition is a brave and eloquent expression of human creativity and destructive impulse – opposite sides of the same coin, perhaps, and a relationship which deserves exploring.

2016 Grant Abstracts

Here are the projects we will be funding this year.

‘Umm at Tawabin’: A Nabataean/Roman Military Camp, Ghor as-Safi, Jordan

Alexandra Ariotti

Umm at Tawabin is an extensive Nabataean/Roman military site in southern Jordan. The site consists of some fortified buildings, circular stone structures, a roadway and other features enclosed by a massive wall and with a predominance of Nabataean and Roman surface pottery on the ground. Up until now, Umm at Tawabin has only been documented in brief in a handful of survey reports since its discovery in the late 19th century and its chronology has remained the subject of some conjecture among scholars. With funding from the PEF in 2014, I surveyed the site and studied its surface pottery and architectural remains in detail, the results of which are to be published (forthcoming) in the PEQ. However, in order to better understand the occupational history of this undoubted historically important and unique site, and as an extension of my work at Umm at Tawabin, I propose to undertake a 30 day excavation to be co-sponsored by the PEF. I plan to publish my findings in the PEQ, and eventually as a PEQ Monograph.

An Investigation of Fāţimid Metalwork from Ṭabariyya and Ḳayṣāriyya: Two Archaeological Findspots from Medieval Bilād al-Shām

Gregory Bilotto

My proposed research through the Palestine Exploration Fund will be undertaken at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which holds cultural material from two Fāţimid period cities. The two cities, Ṭabariyya and Ḳayṣāriyya, are now ruined however recent excavations at both cities have yielded two metalwork hoards likely buried during the turmoil of the 11th century CE. These twin discoveries have provided a solid context for the identification and provenance of metal objects datable to the Fāţimid period and the information provided is therefore considerable.

The proposed research will support my overall PhD studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies in the area of medieval Islamic archaeology. My area of specialization covers Fāţimid produced metalwork, including its dissemination through the regions of the Mediterranean and Red Seas. This research on Fāţimid period metal objects has often been overlooked in the scholarly record. The research is necessary however toward advancing our understanding of the objects’ circulation in the regions with a Fāţimid interaction.

Karimeh Abbud: Lady Photographer of Palestine

Mary Pelletier

In the male-dominated landscape of early Holy Land photography, Karimeh Abbud stands out as one of the first female Palestinian photographers of the 20th century. My research will investigate Abbud’s photographic archive, the majority of which is held intact by the Nazareth Archive Project, with the goal of measuring her contribution to the larger scope of early Palestinian photography. Abbud worked in five major Palestinian cities in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s (Bethlehem, Tiberias, Haifa, Nazareth and Caesarea) and set up a commercial studio during that time. I aim to examine two aspects of Abbud’s photographic practice: her access to women and families who felt comfortable in the presence of a female photographer and its resulting, perhaps specialised, imagery, as well as her professional interactions with male photographers during the British Mandate period.

The Islamic Bayda Project

Micaela Sinibaldi

The Islamic Bayda Project focuses on archaeological investigations of an Islamic-period village in the area of Bayda, Petra region. Former archaeological work has established that the site has been in use from at least the Nabataean to the Ottoman periods, and that the most recent phase of the village is very extensive. This continutiy of occupation originates from the fortunate geological and climatic conditions which have always made this area one of the most favoured of the Petra region for agricultural activities.

The site includes village habitations organised in several clusters, a church, and two mosques.

Some of the principal aims of the Islamic Bayda Project is to investigate the range and development through time of the forms and dynamics of settlement in the Petra region during the whole Islamic period and to explore the important relationship between the Petra valley, where settlement continued without major gaps, and its hinterland.

Yusuf Kanaan: local agency and its limitations in nineteenth-century Palestinian archaeology

Sarah Irving

The history of Western archaeologists working in Palestine has been widely studied. But the voices of the Arab Palestinians who worked alongside them have largely remained unheard, with the exception of research into the ethnological work of Tawfiq Canaan and his colleagues. The archives of the PEF hold notebooks from the late 19th century by Yusuf Kanaan, an archaeological site manager and perhaps specialist dragoman who helped PEF archaeologists on several excavations and whose name appears in PEF publications. Drawing on existing research into Palestinian and other Middle Eastern antiquities, as well as my current research into the lives and works of Stephan Stephan, Elias Haddad and Tawfiq Canaan, this paper pushes back the history of Arab Palestinian engagement in the archaeology and ethnography of Palestine back to the nineteenth century, revealing local agency in the exploration of Palestine’s history whilst also exposing its limitations in the colonial setting.

In the Footsteps of Bliss and Dickie on Mount Zion

Yehiel Zellinger

The earliest excavations on the slopes of Mount Zion were carried out between the years 1894-1897 by Frederick J. Bliss and Archibald C. Dickie, on behalf of the London-based Palestine Exploration Fund. Their methodology involved the excavation of a series of shafts that interconnected via tunnels located along the outer face of the defence walls surrounding Mt. Zion. The detailed and comprehensive publication of their excavations (Bliss and Dickie 1898) is a milestone in the history of archaeological research in Jerusalem since it contains illustrations, detailed plans and clear sections of two fortification systems.

Since 2007 we have re- excavated a large part of the city walls first exposed in Bliss and Dickie’s tunnels. The aim of the proposed research is to examine their original letters, maps and reports, which are housed in the PEF archives, and to bring to light any details which were not published in the original book, thereby providing important insights to our current fieldwork on Mount Zion.

The Disappearing Art of Palestine’s Traditional Tiles

by Mary Pelletier (PEF Volunteer)

Stepping into the Aslan Tiles workshop is sort of like stepping back in time. Just off a busy street in downtown Nablus, a short driveway opens into a kaleidoscopic work-yard, and colourfully patterned tiles decorate every wall, floor, and step – it’s almost like walking into a fun house. Here, the Aslan family operates the last traditional tile factory in the West Bank, helping to preserve a unique Palestinian craft.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Aslan Tiles with a couple of other journalists, interested in seeing how this small-scale business operates under the occupation, and how exactly these tiles get made. Anan Aslan, the company’s welcoming, middle-aged manager, greeted us and showed us around the workshop where everything, from the tools to the employees, is covered in a fine layer of cement dust.

It’s a small set-up, with three outbuildings and seven employees, including Anan and his father Jalal, who recently handed over the management to his son. For much of the time we were there, Jalal kept a watchful and fatherly eye over the two youngest tile-makers, Luay and Omar, who are both in their teens.

Luay and Omar, the youngest tile-makers at Aslan Tiles, work across from one another, sharing a stencil and tile press. (Mary Pelleter/Al Jazeera).

Luay and Omar, the youngest tile-makers at Aslan Tiles, work across from one another, sharing a stencil and tile press. (Mary Pelleter/Al Jazeera)

The two young men stood across from one another, taking turns using a large, hand-cranked tile press that was imported from Avignon decades ago. This is the kind of machinery that the family has used since starting the business in the 1930s. Over the years, the business moved from its original location in Jaffa to Acre, and then to Nablus’ Old City before settling into their present location, but the tile production methods have remained the same.

The exterior of Aslan Tiles is awash with colour - every surface acts as an advertisement for the company's handiwork. (Mary Pelletier/ Al Jazeera).

The exterior of Aslan Tiles is awash with colour – every surface acts as an advertisement for the company’s handiwork. (Mary Pelletier/ Al Jazeera)

Luay and Omar each clean a copper-based mould, and then set an intricate stencil inside its frame. They have a set of old, caked pigment cans beside them, and using a small paint-ladel, fill the stencil sections with quick precision. The stencil is carefully removed, and the watery pigment is covered with ground cement – first a layer of fine dust, followed by a chunkier, wetter variety. The mould is placed beneath the press and after only a few seconds, the finished tile emerges.

Luay and Omar are working on the same design, and each of them will complete between 120 and 150 tiles per day. Across the way, Thaer and Abu Walid are working on two other designs, and work even quicker than the young boys. Abu Walid has certainly had the practice – he’s been working for the Aslan family since 1947, and inspects each tile he produces with a quiet seriousness.

After cleaning the copper base of his tile mould, Thaer begins the tile-making process by pouring a light blue pigment into segments of his stencil. (Mary Pelletier/Al Jazeera).

After cleaning the copper base of his tile mould, Thaer begins the tile-making process by pouring a light blue pigment into segments of his stencil. (Mary Pelletier/Al Jazeera)

After trying my hand at pouring a tile design (which needed a deft paintbrush touch-up from Thaer), we made our way to the third building on site, the office. Anan led us to a room where combinations of mosaics made up the walls, and tile stencils were everywhere – hanging from the walls, overflowing from a massive cabinet, even hanging off a light over the bathroom sink. There are over 700 designs, and customers can choose any colour patterns they like. As we tried to learn some of their names – Pigeon’s Egg, The Egyptian Rose, Upside-down Chessboard – we were treated to a surprise delivery of local knafeh from Jalal, who made sure we knew that Nablus knafeh is the best you can find.

Luay proudly holds up a completed tile. (Mary Pelletier)

Luay proudly holds up a completed tile. (Mary Pelletier)

Anan explained that, with the rise of inexpensive, mass-produced tiles in the 1980s and 1990s, the demand for local tiles waned, and local producers around the West Bank disappeared. But for the past ten years, they have seen a renewed interest in their locally-made, bespoke product. “In the last 10 years, there has been a growing appreciation of this product because people now feel like it is a tradition, a heritage, something that reminds them of their past and their roots,” he said. “It used to be a necessity and people liked its durability, but now it is seen as more of a luxury. People want to enjoy this art.

A vast wall of stencils decorates the workshop's office, some dating back to the 1930s. (Mary Pelletier/Al Jazeera)

A vast wall of stencils decorates the workshop’s office, some dating back to the 1930s. (Mary Pelletier/Al Jazeera)

A link to my full photo story about Aslan Tiles on Al Jazeera English can be found here:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2016/02/enduring-art-palestinian-tiles-160210091638586.html

PEF Mystery Objects: Solution

By Elisabeth Sawerthal

Last week we published a couple of pictures of a group of objects from the PEF collection (see blog post “PEF Mystery Objects” from 27 January 2016), seeking suggestions regarding their identity.

The original image shows miniature plaster copies of the standing stones in the High Place at Gezer. It is a reconstruction of the frontispiece in R.A.S. Macalister, The Excavation of Gezer 1902-1905 and 1907-1909, Vol.2, 1912. London: John Murray.

C3PO and the Mystery Objects

High Place at Gezer

Here an extract from Distant Views of the Holy Land by Felicity Cobbing (Executive Secretary) and David Jacobson (former PEQ Editor) with some further information about this fascinating monument:

“The open-air High Place was an important feature of Canaanite religion, where the deity could come down to earth to commune with the priest or chosen intermediary. Parallels in the Hebrew Bible include the summit of Mount Moriah, the site of Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram, and the Mountain of God in the Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. The Samaritan worship on the summit of Mount Gerizim can also be seen as a continuation of the same tradition. The standing stones … are examples of masseboth: sacred stones associated with open-air worship rather than with an enclosed structure.”