Designed as a symposium on modern cultural heritage, the one day-event brought together key actors in the field of cultural heritage preservation from across the Middle East and beyond. The symposium was an opportunity for cultural heritage actors to gather together to share experiences, and reflect on how they can collaborate to expand their activities and develop common goals with a view to lobbying for policy change to better protect modern heritage in the region.Defining Modern Heritage
The first panel, dedicated to the definition of modern heritage and introduced by Caecilia Pieri, director of the IFPO Urban Observatory in Beirut, was formed of Bernard Toulier from the Ministry of Culture in France; Mohamed Elshahed, an activist and researcher on modern architecture in Egypt and founder of the online Cairobserver; and Karim Rouissi, vice-President of Casamemoire, an organization working for the protection of modern architectural heritage in Morocco. Toulier discussed the development of the concept of ‘modern heritage’ and the difficult of its definition in an era where the most construction, and destruction, took place in the history of mankind. He detailed the case of modern heritage preservation in France: the different actors and their responsibilities, the laws in place, and methods for rehabilitation and restoration. Elshahed discussed the challenges of preserving modern heritage in a country where heritage (usually ancient heritage) invariably goes hand in hand with tourism. He also argued for the existence of a modern Egyptian national architecture, one that makes use of currently available local materials and is therefore ‘authentic’. Rouissi then presented an introduction to modern Moroccan architectural heritage, specifically that of Casablanca and discussed the work of building an inventory of 20th century architectural heritage.
The second panel, introduced by Arab Center for Architecture director George Arbid, focused on examples of best practice in the field of modern heritage preservation. May el Tabbakh, conservation architect from Egypt, presented and evaluated examples of built heritage preservation in Egypt. Musician Khyam Allami, manager of the Sound of Iraq project, gave an overview of the initiative and its ranges of activities, which aim to create and support a new Iraqi national sound archive. Loubna Régragui, film preservationist, introduced the work of film preservation and restoration and explained the dual strategy of protecting analogue materials whilst also investing in digital structure.Best practices and issues in preservation
The third panel, chaired by Arab Image Foundation director Zeina Arida, presented examples of collections and initiatives working with modern heritage in the region. Iyad Issa detailed the work of RIWAQ, an organization devoted to the documentation and preservation of architectural heritage in Palestine, and showcased RIWAQ’s impressive online registry of built heritage in Palestine. Heba Farid, project coordinator for the Photographic Memory of Egypt program at the Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (CultNat) detailed the program’s work in documenting and digitizing towards the creation of an online database, among other activities. Yasmine Chemali, manager of The Fouad Debbas Collection, discussed her work preserving and cataloguing an archive of 85,000 postcards and images, and considered future possibilities for partnerships with digital initiatives.
The final panel, introduced by sound engineer Bashar Shammout, considered the constraints of archive preservation and technical issues related to archival material. Assaad Makhoul, of IRAB Association for Arabic Music, discussed some Arabic music heritage, with particular focus on the singer Nour El-Hoda. Nader Jalal, from the Palestinian Institute for Cultural Development- NAWA, presented some of the organisation's activities, including old recordings from Palestinian radio they are working to preserve. David Peyceré, head curator for archives at the Centre d’archives d’architecture du XXe siècle in Paris, reflected on the precarious state of archives and discussed the difficulties associated with preserving material related to architecture.
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