Culture

Culture Review: New Museum for Molenbeek, Arabic Booker to Palestinian, Yemeni Artefacts at the Louvre

A selection of arts and culture news from India and around the world.

A girl plays with her umbrella in front of masked policemen in the Ransfort street who prevent access to the security perimeter set up during an operation around the Delaunoy street in the predominantly Muslim borough of Molenbeek Saint Jean, in connection with the terrorists attacks in Paris.

A girl plays with her umbrella in front of masked policemen in the Ransfort street who prevent access to the security perimeter set up during an operation around the Delaunoy street in the predominantly Muslim borough of Molenbeek Saint Jean, in connection with the terrorists attacks in Paris. Credit: John Vink

New museum hopes to counter Molenbeek’s negative image 

The Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art (MIMA) has recently opened in Brussels’ Molenbeek district – now internationally known as home to Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Brahim Abdelslam, masterminds of the Paris attacks of November 2015.

With a high unemployment rate and a large Muslim population, Molenbeek has long had a tarnished image locally.

The Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art in Molenbeek, Brussels. Credit: Flickr

The Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art in Molenbeek, Brussels. Credit: Flickr

MIMA hopes to help break these stereotypes. Artistic director Raphael Cruyt said that the museum is “a medium for social cohesion.” During its opening weekend of April 22, over 4000 people visited. The museum’s first temporary exhibit, called “City Lights,” features works by Maya Hayuk, Swoon, Momo and Faile, which present fresh perspectives on the neighbourhood.

British Museum, Louvre and others display Yemeni artefacts

In a UNESCO-backed initiative, several of the world’s leading museums, including the British Museum, the Louvre, the Hermitage in St Petersburg and the Metropolitan in New York, will be holding exhibitions and events to highlight the destruction of Yemeni artefacts and sites.

Hundreds of sites and artefacts, including libraries, museums, forts, shrines and parts of the world heritage city Sana’a, have been destroyed in fighting between various factions in Yemen since the start of the civil war.

The senior curator of the British Museum’s Middle East department, St John Simpson, said that the war against archaeological sites is a crime against humanity and that it is the moral duty of the international museum community to ensure this is not forgotten.

Rather ironically, the British museum acquired its piece on display – a stylised stone image of a bearded man’s head – from the son of a soldier who fought with the British army in Aden to quell an insurgency against British occupancy there, which ultimately resulted in the end of British rule and the proclamation of the People’s Republic of South Yemen in 1967.

“Arabic booker” goes to Palestinian author

Rabi al-Madhoun signing his books after a reading. Credit: Flickr

Rabi al-Madhoun signing his books after a reading. Credit: Flickr

The International prize for Arabic fiction, backed by the Booker Prize Foundation, London, has been awarded to a Palestinian author for the first time. The judges praised Rabi al-Madhoun’s Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba for inventing a “new fictional form”. The novel is written in four parts, each representing a concerto movement, the narrative spanning the Holocaust, the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948 and the Palestinian right to return.

Born in Ashkelon, Palestine, Rabi al-Madhoun emigrated to the Gaza Strip as a child during the 1948 exodus.

After studying at Alexandria University, he became a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, but subsequently left activism for writing. He now lives in London and works for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

The prize has been awarded in the past to writers from Egypt, Saudia Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq and Tunisia. It is funded by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, UAE.

Orwell prize for political writing dominated by books on Middle East

Of the six books shortlisted for the Orwell prize for the best political writing this year, three are about the Middle East. The Orwell prize will go to the book that according to the judges best fulfills Orwell’s ambition to “make political writing into an art.”

Jason Burke, now a journalist with The Guardian, is one of the shortlisted authors for the Orwell Prize 2016. Credit: Youtube

Jason Burke is one of the shortlisted authors for the Orwell Prize 2016. Credit: Youtube

The three Middle East-related books are Jason Burke’s The New Threat from Islamic Militancy (Bodley Head), Wendell Steavenson’s Circling the Square (Granta Books), about the Egyptian revolution from Mubarak to Morsi, and Emma Sky’s The Unravelling (Atlantic Books), about her volunteer efforts in Iraq and eventual role as political adviser to the US general there.

The other three books on the shortlist are:

John Kay, Other People’s Money, Profile Books (an analysis of the failing financial sector)

Arkady Ostrovsky, The Invention of Russia, Atlantic Books (Russia from Gorbachev to Putin)

Ferdinand Mount, The Tears of the Rajas, Simon and Schuster (a history of British India through the story of the author’s grandmother’s family)

Ancient Greek citadel unearthed in Jerusalem

The National Geographic reports that archaeologists with the Israeli Antiquities Authority have found the first solid evidence of the Hellenistic culture that dominated in ancient Jerusalem: the remains of a fort built two thousand years ago in the centre of the old city. The citadel was previously known only from texts.

The remains of the Acra, an ancient Greek citadel unearthed in the centre of old Jerusalem. Credit: Wikimedia/ Israel Antiquities Authority

The remains of the Acra, an ancient Greek citadel unearthed in the centre of old Jerusalem. Credit: Wikimedia/ Israel Antiquities Authority

The conquering of Judea by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE led to conflicts between traditional Jews and those influenced by Hellenism. The fort, called the Acra (Greek for a “high, fortified place”) was built by the Seleucids and was resented as a symbol of Greek dominance by many Jews. Eventually, in the 2nd century BCE, the Greeks were expelled from Jerusalem and then Acra, an event still celebrated by Jews at Hanukkah.

The archaeologists unearthed successive layers of history before hitting the fort remains – an early Islamic market, a Byzantine orchard, a hoard of 7th century coins, a Roman villa and a 1st century Jewish ritual bathing place.

Archaeologist Yonathan Mizrachi, while calling the find “fascinating,” notes that local residents, who are mostly Palestinians, have not been consulted or involved in the dig and also that the Ir David Foundation, whose plans to build a museum on the site instigated the dig, supports Jewish settlement of the occupied territories.