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Modern art on show at Lebanon cube museum
October 12, 2018
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EL-HERI: At a new private museum in Lebanon, a contemporary sculpture of a mortar missile is displayed alongside millenia-old statues retrieved from the bottom of the sea.

Named after the Mesopotamian god of wisdom, the Nabu Museum opened in late September to showcase the cultural wealth of an ancient region devastated by conflict.

Its inaugural exhibition includes 60 contemporary works, as well as around 400 antiquities from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Yemen.

“We have a more or less complete picture of what was once the cradle of civilisation,” says French curator Pascal Odille.

Next to a private beach in the village of El-Heri in Lebanon’s north, the museum’s collection sits in an impressive futuristic cube of steel, coated with a rusty orange patina. A tall glass opening in the metal and concrete structure provides a view straight through the museum’s interior and out to the sea.

Designed by Iraqi artists, the museum for the first time opens up the private art and antiquities collections of wealthy businessmen to the public for free.

Drawn from the homes and warehouses of its patrons, the exhibits are displayed on two floors, floodlit by the sunlight streaming through the tall windows.

There are “ushabti” from Ancient Egypt, finely carved turquoise figurines traditionally placed in coffins to ensure passage to the afterlife.

Nearby, a contemporary sculpture of a mortar missile by Lebanese artist Katya Traboulsi is adorned with hieroglyphs.

The artwork is topped by a sculpted bust of the Ancient Egyptian god of the sky, Horus, instead of a warhead.

Visitors can see Lebanese artist Saliba Douaihy’s abstract landscape paintings, one largely red, the other bright blue.

But they can also admire terracotta statues harking back to the Phoenician period found during marine excavations off the southern coast of Lebanon.

“You can see the seashell and limescale deposits on them,” says Odille, of the figures from the sixth or seventh century BC. The museum’s founders — two Lebanese and a Syrian — want it to be a beacon of hope in a region scarred by conflict and the brutality of militants.

“Nabu is the god of writing and wisdom. Not the god of war,” says Lebanese co-founder Jawad Adra.

“We’re a ray of optimism in this region, amid all this obscurity,” says the 64-year-old, whose colourful, modern-art inspired tie contrasts with his grey suit.

Agence France-Presse

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