Refugees Trained as Tour Guides in Oxford Museums
In further news: Syria’s National Museum in Damascus reopens; and a protest at the British Museum’s protest-themed show
A Berlin-based project which trains Syrian and Iraqi migrants as museum guides is heading to the UK. The ‘Multaka: Museum as Meeting Point – Refugees as Guides in Berlin Museums’ scheme, initiated three years ago by Berlin State Museums and the Deutsches Historisches Museum, has inspired Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum and the Museum of the History of Science to run a likeminded project with the English city’s Arabic-speaking refugees. At the latter, refugees are being trained to act as guides to the museum’s collection of astronomical instruments. And at the Pitt Rivers, refugees are involved in curating a show around Middle Eastern textiles. Meanwhile, the Louvre in Paris and New York’s Museum of Modern Art are in talks about running similar initiatives.
Part of Syria’s National Museum in Damascus has finally reopened to the public. The institution has been closed for more than six years in order to protect its collection of antiquities from looting. Syrian authorities have described the reopening as part of a shift to ‘normal life’ after years of ISIS violence. ‘Today, Damascus has recovered,’ Mohamed al-Ahmad, Syria’s Minister of Culture, told the Associated Press. ‘The opening of the museum is a genuine message that Syria is still here and her heritage would not be affected by terrorism.’
The British Museum’s protest-themed exhibition ‘I object: Ian Hislop’s search for dissent’ was protested by activists from the organization BP or not BP? over the weekend. The group staged the mini-action to draw attention to the museum’s partnership with the oil giant, saying: ‘We’re staging a protest inside the protest exhibition today, because we think there’s quite an irony in that BP is sponsoring this museum when they so often squash protest.’ The protesters wore t-shirts printed with ‘I OBJECT TO BP’ and acted as ‘rebel curators’, presenting objects representative of BP’s problematic behaviour across the world, ranging from a West Papuan independence ‘Morning Star’ flag (BP run gas extraction in the region) to a tear gas cartridge from Cairo (drawing attention to BP’s investment in Egypt). After a 12-year sponsorship deal (which saw several protests by environmental activists), oil giant Shell recently ended its sponsorship of London’s National Gallery.
The past few weeks have seen a reconsideration of ties to the Saudi government across the arts and cultural sectors, in light of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul’s Saudi consulate. British architect Norman Foster recently withdrew from Saudi ‘mega-city’ project Neom, and New York’s Brooklyn Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art have rejected Saudi sponsorship for events. But others are still forging ahead, with Russia announceding a Wassily Kandinsky show in Riyadh (with works loaned from St Petersburg’s State Russian Museum). Another project that is bound to come under scrutiny is the cultural and tourism development of Al-Ula Province in Saudi Arabia. The Art Newspaper reports that the major French-Saudi partnership received its official decree from French president Emmanuel Macron just a day after Turkish authorities announced that Khashoggi had been murdered.
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is partnering with Google to offer public access to 406,000 images from its collection. Artnet News reports that the Met Collection API will offer the thousands of digital images under a Creative Commons Zero license, putting ‘5,000 years of history’ online. The museum’s partnership with Google will also see the archive integrated into the Arts & Culture app. Director Max Hollein commented: ‘The new Met Collection API further enables the Museum to connect its vast resources with our audiences on a global scale, which is absolutely fundamental to our mission as an encyclopedic museum in the 21st century.’
In gallery news: David Kordansky has revealed plans to expand his LA gallery across an entire city block at the beginning of next year, designed by wHY architects’s Kulapat Yantrasast; and New York’s Andrew Kreps Gallery now represents the British artist, and current Hepworth Sculpture Prize nominee Michael Dean.
In awards and appointments: the curators for the 11th Berlin Biennale – due to take place in summer 2020 – have been announced as María Berríos, Renata Cervetto, Lisette Lagnado and Agustín Pérez Rubio; Brazilian filmmaker and artist Diego Marcon is the recipient of the 2018 MAXXI Bulgari prize, which aims to develop emerging artists’s careers; and Alfredo Jaar has won the Hiroshima Art Prize – the triennial award recognizes those who have contributed ‘to the peace of humankind in the field of art’.