A Piece of Heart and a Piece of Art: Damascus Room

Damascus Room, Syria, Damascus, 1766-67/ AH 1180, Wood (poplar) with gesso relief, copper and tin leaf, glazes and paint, plaster with stone paste inlays, and multicolored stones; installation (approx) 240 x 180 x 144 in.© Museum Associates/LACMA

The story began in the fall and early winter of 2011-12, when Linda Komaroff, Curator and Department Head at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), decided to pursue an acquisition of a period room from eighteenth-century Damascus, Syria. Komaroff is one of the people who makes LACMA a very unique institution. In Unframed post titled Preserving Small Piece of Damascus, Komaroff describes the new acquisition:

The Damascus Room came to signify more than the unique opportunity to acquire a rare work of art that would become a destination for museum visitors but the very embodiment of what LACMA is as an encyclopedic art museum. Although the room was removed from Syria nearly thirty-five years ago, the notion that we would be helping to preserve a small part of the cultural history of one of the world’s oldest, continuously occupied cities, intensified my interest in bringing the room to Los Angeles so that its story can be told and appreciated in this twenty-first-century city.

The room was dissembled in 1978 from one of the courtyard houses located in the al- Bahsa district, which was later demolished in order to accommodate the growth of the city of Damascus. The room was then exported from Syria to Beirut, Lebanon where it remained in storage for over 30 years. It somehow made its way to a London warehouse where it was found by Komaroff. Although the room was maintained in its original state, some restoration was required and an armature was created to make the room self-supporting so that it could be installed in an already-existing space or reinstalled elsewhere. Komaroff describes the Damascus Room thusly:

Damascus Room, Syria, Damascus, 1766-67/ AH 1180. © Museum Associates/LACMA

It has multicolored inlaid stone floors, painted wood walls, elaborate cupboard doors and storage niches, a spectacular arch with plaster voussoirs decorated with colored inlays that served to divide the room into upper and lower sections separated by a single tall step; and an intricately inlaid stone wall fountain with a carved and painted hood. The painted wood surfaces are embellished with a particular type of relief decoration known in Arabic as al-‘ajami (“meaning non-Arab or foreign”) or as pastiglia in the West.

The restoration work was undertaken in collaboration with Saudi Aramco’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture and with the support provided by the Friends of Heritage Preservation, LACMA. The reassembling of the Damascus Room was a two-year project completed in December 2015. The room was on display at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia from 2016–2018 and will be returned to Los Angeles to tell its story to a new audience.The reconstruction of the Damascus Room has been one of the Linda Komaroff’s curatorial career:

Being in the room is a joy; it exudes a kind of beauty, warmth and comfort, which is in keeping with its original function as a place for welcoming guests. But that joy is tempered by the sadness of the continuing deterioration of daily life in Syria, the diaspora of its citizens, and the destruction of its historic monuments. For now, the room must play one more role as a preserver of memories of Syria, as so beautifully expressed by the Syrian-American hip-hop artist and poet Omar Offendum, whose performance* was recorded in the room.

* Video attribution: www.lacma.org

Doha historical dictionnary of Arabic

The Doha Historical Dictionary of Arabic is developed under the auspices of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Doha, Qatar. Founded “on the ideal that the social sciences and humanities have an invaluable role to play in Arab societal development”, ther ACRPS produces and publishes both applied and fundamental research, organizes conferences, seminars, and workshops accross the Arab World.

Officially launched in 2012, the Doha Historical Dictionary of Arabic initiative aims at creating a comprehensive Corpus of Arabic,deriving sub-dictionaries from the Historical Dictionary of Arabic, publishing lexicographical research and studies. At the time of our visit, a lot of resources were not yet available to visitors but one can hope the Lexicographer’s Forum will soon be activated, and Lexical Services soon be available.

The website is available in English and Arabic.

Sharia Source

SHARIAsource is a flagship research venture of the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School.

The mission of this programme is organizing information available from all over the world about Islamic law in an accessible and useful manner. SHARIAsource is not a religious organization nor does it advocate any particular group or institution. It concentrates on academic principles and involvement by including diversity of various perspectives, peer-reviewed analysis and free and open exchange of ideas.

SHARIAsource creates a platform of storing Islamic law’s primary sources and it cooperates with various team of editors from all over the globe; moreover it provides the opportunity for people to analyze critically the mentioned sources and it also promotes research in order to shed light on academic as well as public discourse about Islamic law.

Their well-organized and classified portal provides access to cutting-edge content and context regarding Islamic law. Through this portal numerous resources can be browsed by Topics & Themes; Geographic Regions, Empires & Eras; Editors and Contributors and Document Types (ex.: Historical/Contemporary primary sources, Expert Analysis, legal documents, etc.). In addition to providing access to full text documents, the number of available resources associated to each category is presented as well which can be very useful to academics, journalist and policy makers.

Additionally readers who are interested to know about special events and news, their blog provides them with useful information in that regards.

“SHARIAsource was developed with support from the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and from the Luce and MacArthur Foundations.”

 

Digital Library of the Middle East

DLME is a response to the current threats in the form of destruction, looting and illegal trade to the cultural heritage of the Middle East.

The digital Library of the Middle East aims to federate different types of cultural heritage material consisting of archives, manuscripts, museum objects, media and archeological and intangible heritage collections. The DLME implements international cultural preservation goals by providing accessibility and urging documentation and digitization; contributing to security and sustainability by encouraging inventory creation, cataloguing, documentation and digitization of collections as well as forming a community of interest that seeks collaboration among people, organization and countries who value this heritage; which in returns can help mitigate looting and the illegal resale of heritage materials.

The digital platform of the DLME brings together digital records of accessible artifacts ranging across twelve millennia. It provides metadata for each objects that describes various aspects of the artifact or document, it might include its contested meaning or significance, its history and its provenance when available. This platform is searchable, also the collection is classified based on different criteria such as Language, type, date, creator, medium and etc.The Digital Library of the Middle East is continuously developing and progressing through scholarly inputs, crowd-sourcing and new knowledge discovered through its use.

Rekhta: An open access collection of sources on Urdu language & literature

Rekhta.org is a free website established by Rekhta Foundation to promote and disseminate Urdu literature with a focus on Urdu poetry. The website’s content consists of texts in Devanagari and Roman scripts as well as Urdu script.

This website provides access to a large and unique online repository of Urdu Poetry with more than 30,000 Ghazals and Nazms authored by over 2,500 Urdu poets from the last three centuries.

For the purpose of preserving rare and popular Urdu books, Rekhta initiated the digitization of Urdu literature, both poetry and prose.

Rekhta.org “has a large number of features that make it extremely user-friendly and provides the reader unparalleled convenience in the ability to browse, search and find relevant content with its customized powerful search facility. It also has the unique feature of an in-built glossary that provides the meaning of every word at just a click. In order to give the uninitiated reader a flavour of the diction and pronunciation, a large number of compositions have been recorded in the voice of poets and professionals and have been provided along with the text.”

Moreover, Rekhta has recently presented the complete works of two great Urdu Poets, Mir Taqi Mir and Mirza Ghalib, as well as all Saadat Hasan Manto’s short stories.

Another section that was added recently is Rekhti, which is Urdu Shayari composed by men employing women’s language.

The interface is available in English, Hindi and Urdu.

Arabic Literature of Africa Online: database trial

From October 2nd to 31st 2017, the McGill Library is trialing Arabic Literature of Africa Online (ALAO).

ALAO is a bio-bibliography on the Arabic manuscript tradition in the African continent, which continued well into the 20th century CE. It offers authoritative information about African authors, the texts they wrote in Arabic, the manuscripts in which these texts are found, and the locations of these manuscripts, together with bibliographical references to the literature.”

Check it out and let us know what you think!

Bibliotheca Alexandrina digital assets repository

Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria, Egypt) digital assets repository gives free access to more than 137 000 ebooks full-text, among which 24 000 are in Arabic. In addition, it offers limited preview (5% of a title; minimum 10 pages) of over 230 000 copyrighted books, primarily in Arabic (200 000).

Book Site 3.1.2

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina DAR book viewer provides very convenient features including:

  • Full text search within the book’s title, subject, keywords, and content
  • Highlight of search results, and the possibility to highlight, underline and stick notes
  • Single page or two pages display, and one page at a time display to facilitate the opening of a book with a slow Internet connection
  • Multilingual interface.

This project, initiated in 1995 was implemented in 2002. The shared catalogue was developed in 2011 in collaboration with other institutions such as Internet Archive, the Arab World Institute (Paris, France), the Biodiversity Heritage Library, etc.

The interface is trilingual: Arabic, English and French.

Meetings with Books Special Collections in the 21st Century. With a Tribute to Raymond Klibansky Illustrated Survey of Special Collections at McGill University Library and Archives

The holiday season is upon us and the ISL will be closed as of 3pm today only to re-open its doors on the 5th of January 2015 at 9am. This has been another successful year for the ISL in terms of attendance (over 61,700 unique visitors), collection development (close to 3,000 items added including approximately 150 reference materials) and a number of additional activities (exhibitions, talks, information sessions, etc.). It’s been a busy year! Thank you for your support and enthusiasm in the ISL’s activities!

MeetingsOn a different note, a new publication has been released entitled: “Meetings with Books: Special Collections in the 21st Century. With a Tribute to Raymond Klibansky.  Illustrated Survey of Special Collections at McGill University Library and Archives.” This collaborative effort led by Drs. Jillian Tomm and Richard Virr of McGill’s RBSC provides an enlightening survey of the magnificent collections housed in RBSC. Included in those collections are many Islamic materials inclusive of Manuscripts (the image comes from the Dalāʼil al-khayrāt, RBD A6), Calligraphy, Lithographs and Rare Books. One is able to order a physical copy through contacting Dr. Tomm but there’s also an online open access version here.

Happy Holidays from the ISL’s staff and we look forward to seeing you in 2015!