CONTEMPORARY ART PRESERVATION LEBANESE
The Art Newspaper recently published an article on Arab Image Foundation (AIF) and their winning bid for a conservation grant from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Without a long history of photographic preservation within the Middle East, how will the organisation use the grant to promote its collection?
Arab photography finds a home
AIF recently won a monetary grant from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, awarded to them through the financial organisation’s Art Conservation Programme. Launched in 2010, the scheme aims to help preserve cultural treasures throughout Europe, West Asia and Africa. Of the thirteen winning organisations, AIF was the only organisation seeking funds to preserve photographs. They were also the only organisation based in West Asia.
There are not many groups focussing on collecting and preserving photographs of North Africa or the West Asian region. In fact, Arab Image Foundation (AIF) director, Zeina Arida explained in the article published in The Art Newspaper that “there isn’t the ‘archiving culture’ in the Arab word that there is in other regions.” She attributes this to political and social instability in the region as well as a history of migration.
While AIF is dedicated to preserving, digitising and managing its 300,000-strong collection of Arabic photography, the term ‘Arabic’ actually sits uncomfortably with Arida. She recently told The Daily Star that “there is no such thing as Arab photography. There is photography in the Arab world, and the practice is alike everywhere.”
How will the grant be used?
This grant seems to have come at just the right time for AIF. In March 2011, Arida told The Daily Star that early last year (2010) the organisation was “about to close,” raising questions of its long-term sustainability. Luckily for the archive, the financial body was “truly impressed by the cultural and historical significance of the Arab Image Foundation’s collection,” as Rena De Sisto, an executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch told The Art Newspaper when explaining the reasons behind the decision to award AIF the grant.
The funds will be used to digitise the collections of two Arab photographers: Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani, and Iraq’s Latif el Ani.
El Madani’s work covers fifty years of history within Saida, a city in south Lebanon, and presents an insight into half a century of socio-political change.
Latif el Ani’s output centres on his role as photographer for the Iraq Petroleum Company, then his work within Iraq’s Ministry of Information. Like many of the photographers whose images are part of AIF’s collection, el Ani’s activity from the 1940s to 1960s in Iraq opens up new channels for research and insight into a culturally significant period of time for the region, showing the modernisation and development of many major centres of activity today.
AIF sees public accessibility as vital
The organisation also offers its collection to the public through exhibitions, an online database and a new research centre that will allow for public access to a reference and video library as well as run a residency programme for artists and scholars.
AIF is also committed to public involvement in photographic creation. rePLACE BEIRUT is one such example of this approach; members of the public are invited to map, online, routes that they take every day and then submit them to a website, bringing to life the organisation’s philosophies on the importance of preservation to a city’s cultural landscape.
Planned collaborations include a three-year joint venture involving AIF, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty Conservation Institute. The initiative aims to address the scarcity of formally trained photographic conservators in the West Asian region through the development of three eight-day Photograph Preservation Institutes to be held in Beirut, Doha and Cairo. The collaboration will also seek to identify important collections in the region.
More on AIF
Arab Image Foundation (AIF) is a non-profit organisation based in Beirut. Following its inception in 1997, the organisation has focussed on the study, collection and preservation of photography and other visual material in West Asia, North Africa and the Arab diaspora. The foundation holds a collection of 300, 000 photographs ranging from mid-nineteenth century work to more current images.
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