Happy New Year! In Arabic: a usual Gulf Arabic greetings for New year and main festivals.

Happy New Year!
In Arabic: a usual Gulf Arabic greetings for New year and main festivals.

Dear readers,

Before it is too late, I wish you all a happy 2015!

As expected, 2014 was a busy year. I have been busy with the achievement of two of my main projects: the Ras Ghimb castle in Gondar and the Department of Paleontology at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. There were many other projects in 2014 at the French Center for Ethiopian Studies such as the First Conference of Islamic Manuscripts held on March,  the publication of the Ethiopian CityGuides, etc.  Read the rest of this entry »


On Friday 24 January 2014, the Cairo Museum of Islamic Art was severely damaged in a suicide car bomb attack that might have targeted the nearby State Security premises. The extent of the damages on artefacts is still unknown but reports describe the “indescribable” destruction of the building and display re-inaugurated in 2010 as many of the glass window panes were shattered as a result of the blast. It seems the museum was not a primary target but a collateral victim of a wave of terrorist attacks on the eve of the third anniversary of the 25 January Revolution due to its location.


The Cairo Museum of Islamic Art is a unique institution because of its very location in the Middle East, in the land of Orientalism. This location questions the reciprocity of the East-West relation of Orientalism: Can displaying Arab art in an Arab country constitute an “oriental” answer to Orientalism?  Read the rest of this entry »

The newest of the Louvre galleries has opened this week: Islamic Art is now displayed in a marvel of architecture. Does Display (re)invent Islamic Art? This article examines how Islamic Art as an academic field was invented at the turn of the 20th century as it was being exhibited  in Paris, Munich or London. It analyses the French connection in the invention of Islamic art and reflects on the political meaning of exhibiting Islamic Art in a post-9/11 context and the Orientalist tradition: unveiling the Louvre veil on Islamic art.

The first islamic Art display at the Louvre: Delort de Gléon room, Pavillon de l’horloge, 1921

That article was published (in French) in Qantara, the cultural magazine of the Institut du Monde Arabe (Paris), #82, winter 2012. The issue was dedicated to the Invention of Islamic Art.

Musée du Louvre, Department of Islamic Art, Mario Bellini & Rudy Ricciott architects, 2012

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Is Islamic Art a Western invention? I open with this article a series of articles I’ve published this year on the invention of Islamic Art. It comes in line with the reopening of departments of Islamic Art a the Metropolitan  in November 2011 and at the Louvre expected in 2012. It leads to a reflection on the Orientalist tradition and the political meaning of exhibiting Islamic Art.

Poster & Matiss

Poster of "Meisterwerke muhammedanischer Kunst" exhibition, Munich, 1910, photo:DR. // Matisse and friends at the Oktoberfest, Munich 1910, DR.

Are contemporary exhibitions/museums of Islamic Art embedded in a century old Orientalist tradition?
Here’s a book review – published on Studia Islamica, 2011, 2 – of Avinoam Shalem & Andrea Lermer’s After One Hundred Years that celebrated the 100 years of the exhibition ‘Meisterwerk muhammedanischer Kunst’held in Munich in 1910. The aim of the organisers the Munich 1910 exhibition was to break up with Orientalism by linking Oriental Art to Modernism. The exhibition entered history that way with Matisse among other avant-garde artists visiting it. This book examines the heritage of this amazing exhibition considered as a major landmark in Islamic Art studies. This book review offers a chance to reflect on the history of exhibitions as a research topic. It also raises questions on the contemporary exhibitions of Islamic Art in the public space and their political discontent. Is exhibiting Islamic Art political? As more museums are being opened, the orientalist tradition raises under the cover of a so-called  Islamophilia supposed the counter post 9/11 islamophobia.

After one hundred years: the 1910 exhibition ‘Meisterwerk muhammedanischer Kunst’ reconsidered’, Andrea Lermer and Avinoam Shalem, Leyde, Brill, 2010, 401 p. Read the rest of this entry »

Statue de Bourdelle au Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Alger, DR.

For the 15 years now, demands of return, repatriation and restitution of artefacts stolen during the colonial period have been an endless diplomatic issue between former colonised and colonisers in Africa. How objects of cultural heritage became subjects of conflict?

Not all Africans countries claim for their ‘looted’ heritage, North African countries (Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco) barely asked for cultural artefacts to be repatriated. This article explains that difference through the analysis of 50 years of cultural policies in a post-colonial context. It raises questions that help reformulating the dead-end of the question of restitutions. How that difference enlights the relationship between the part (the object in exile) and the all (the heritage in situ)?
This complete article (in French) is now  on line on revues.org:

Jean-Gabriel Leturcq, « La question des restitutions d’œuvres d’art : différentiels maghrébins », L’Année du Maghreb [En ligne], IV | 2008, http://anneemaghreb.revues.org/431

Enjoy your reading*.

*I’m aware it is a very academic article. Research aims at fuelling cultural policies with new matters, doesn’t it!?

  Camille el Kareh, Self-portrait , Lebanon 1920

Camille el Kareh, Self-portrait, Zhorta, Lebanon, 1920, Collection: AIF/Mohsen Yammine Copyright © Arab Image Foundation

I work now as a Research Associate for the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut on a strategic program called the Middle East Photograph Preservation Initiative (MEPPI). MEPPI is led jointly with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the University of Delaware, the Getty Conservation Institute and the Qatar Museums Authority.
MEPPI main goal is to raise regional awareness and expertise in photograph preservation
. This initiative has three interconnected components:

– The MEPPI Survey, a survey aimed at identifying and assessing significant photograph holdings in the Arab world. Our scope also extends to collections in Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan.
– The MEPPI Courses, a series of courses, where collection keepers will be invited to learn and share best practices about photograph preservation.
– The MEPPI Symposium, where regional cultural policy decision-makers will be invited to reflect upon the importance of photographic heritage.
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What is the meaning of an Ethnographic Museum in a post-colonial world in which boundaries between the Self and the Other are in a constant evolution? If the Self and the Other are a reflective myth, the Museum is a privileged machinery to construct the representation of Alterity, of Otherness.

Savignac, "Allez au Musée de l'Homme", Affiche, 1981, DR

The Museum orders, screenplays and formalises the re-presentation of the World. Therefore, the Museum appears a effective place to study the history of the representations of Others as in the case of the transformation of the old Paris’ Musée de l’Homme into the new unfortunate Musée du Quai Branly. [On the Quai Branly’s vicissitudes, refer to Kimmelman’s brilliant article: “Heart of Darkness in the City of Light“, New York Times, July 2 2006]

This book review [in French] of Benoît de l’Estoile’s, the Taste of Others [Le goût des Autres*] provides a chance to discuss the role of Anthropology and the Museum in the reprensentation of Alterity. Commenting on the book’s argument also provides an insight that reconsiders the role of anthropologists and intellectuals in the social and political debates on multiculturalism.

Anticipating on the conclusions and on further articles (to come here, stay tuned), I think that this book offered a good example of a certain school of Museum Studies that hardly consider museums as a research subject but as an object: the study of discourses about the museum overdetermines the topic of Otherness. Museum considered as a discourse is a powerful means to understand non said representations and give sense to nonsensical cultural discourses.

* Note: Le goût des autres / The Taste of Others: this is a literal translation as to keep on playing with the reference to Agnès Jaoui’s 2000 film on the experience of multiculturalism in France. As a complementary reading on the same topic, here’s a reference to Sally Price’s excellent Paris Primitive: Jacques’s Chirac Museum at the Quai Branly, Chicago, 2007… [here’s a book review in French].

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Osama Esid, The fantastic Jawa (Cairo Street workers series), 2006 (DR)

Following the life of the Dictionnaire des Orientalistes (we talked about it already), I’ll be participating on the 3rd conference that prepares the new edition of the Dictionnaire with another analytical volume. It’s a three days conference with 60 speakers from both sides of the Mediterranean aiming at shedding light on the old orientalist practices and renewing perspectives. The ultimate goal is to evaluate the dialogue of Orientalism with and within the Orient.

I’ll talk in the F. Pouillon’s round table #2 “inventing the  Tradition” : Cairo’s Museum of Arab Art: Anatomy* of an Orientalist institution in the Orient (1881-2010).

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My article  on Sudanese museums and  politics of identity in the transitional period 2005-2011 published in Egypte-Monde Arabe 5-6 (2009) on Heritage-Politics in Egypt and Sudan is now available on line on revues.org along with the rest of the book.

This article is part of the chapter 3: Politicisation and instrumentalization of Heritage in Sudan. This topic was investigated for the first time. The chapter comprises resourceful contributions of Iris Seri-Hersh (Iremam, Aix-en-Provence) on the recurrent use of the narratives of the Mahdiya in Sudanese politics, Ida Dykorn Heierland (Bergen University) on the political and economic use of archeological heritage in Naqa, Coralie Gradel (SFDAS, Khartoum) on the involvement of Lille III University in Sudanese archaeological research since the 1950’s and Constanza de Simone (UNESCO, Cairo) on the projected museum in Wadi Halfa.

Existing and planned museums in Sudan. ©Jean-Gabriel Leturcq, 2009

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Whose Pharaohs?

June 6, 2009

Article publié in Qantara, 62, Janvier 2007 et partiellement reproduit (sans autorisation dans La nouvelle République d’Alger, 18 septembre 2007)

Temple de Karnak (ca. 1870)

Temple de Karnak (ca. 1870)

De l’appropriation du patrimoine préislamique dans le monde arabe.

Le 5 avril 2003, tandis que les forces américaines entraient dans Bagdad, les media annonçaient le pillage du Musée Iraqien et la disparition de 170 000 pièces d’antiquités. La réaction internationale condamnait alors avec la perte irrémédiable de collections d’objets assyriens, babyloniens, etc. la destruction d’un patrimoine de l’humanité. Les Irakiens pour leur part dénonçaient la destruction de leur patrimoine national[1]. Universel ou national ?

Sgt Lindsay posing with Nefertiti (1946) source: http://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/
Sgt Lindsay posing with Nefertiti (1946)

À qui appartiennent donc les antiquités assyriennes, babyloniennes en Iraq ou Syrie, pharaoniques en Égypte, phéniciennes au Liban, byzantines en Jordanie, mais aussi romaines, berbères en Algérie, Tunisie, Libye et au Maroc, ou “négro-africaine” au Soudan ou en Somalie ? Comment les témoignages matériels de l’époque préislamique, l’héritage de la jahilyya en quelque sorte, peuvent être intégrés aux constructions des nations modernes à dominante musulmane ? Bien qu’on constate que c’est avec une intensité fort différente que s’exercent les demandes de restitution des œuvres acquises illicitement et conservées aujourd’hui dans les musées occidentaux, les patrimoines préislamiques dans le monde arabe sont finalement devenus des objets de négociation pour les États contemporains. Patrimoine mondial, patrimoine national : ces antiquités appartiennent-elles aux dites nations ou au reste du monde ? Comment les antiquités préislamiques sont devenues des enjeux identitaires tant au niveau des nations que sur la scène internationale

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