Swedish museum displays the personal stories of a lost Syria

Sunday 30/07/2017
Beyond headlines. Opening of the exhibition at Medelhavsmuseet, on May 20. (Tony Sandin, The Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities)

London - Personal belongings carry stories and memories. The exhibition “Stories from Syria” at the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, Sweden, features objects belonging to people born in Syria.
Some individuals who contrib­uted objects and stories have lived in Sweden a long time but others ar­rived as refugees during the current war. “It’s not so much about the ob­ject we’re showcasing, as the stories behind them,” a museum spokes­man said.
“Imagine a girl who collects Bar­bies and suddenly she has to choose one or a family that has a collection of paintings of, for instance, angels. They need to select just one that they’re going to take with them that they feel will give them strength. These are their stories.”
A museum news release stated that joy and sorrow permeate the stories and objects on display. They tell of a love for Syria but also the sorrow of losing one’s home and one’s true self. The stories illustrate a longing for a missing place and a lost way of life, as well as the safety of old habits. They describe in detail the rich flavours, smells and lan­guage of a land left behind.
The museum’s website features testimonies that accompany some of the items. Khouzama, 45, from Damascus went to Sweden in 2014. Khouzama donated a jar — now empty — of skin cream her mother had given her.
“When I see the Kamill jar in the bottom of my makeup bag, I re­member Syria. I remember my lo­cal mall, the Syrian money… and how I used my makeup,” she said. “I remember many everyday chores and the fatigue I sometimes felt. But I also remember how those worries vanished when I rubbed my hands together.
“Today, when I open my makeup bag, I’m afraid of losing my cream jar. How can you be so attached to an empty jar? Just by looking at it, I re­live the grief and pain of my lost Da­mascus, my lost identity. Now I have to start all over again, as a newborn in a new world, with a new identity, new worries and new cream.”
Other donations are even more personal. Omar, 32, from Idlib trav­elled to Sweden in 2014 after work­ing in Lebanon. He donated a letter his wife had written to him as they were expecting their first child. “In the letter, she writes to ask how I feel. She is worried, it (the birth) is only a few weeks away and that she longs to hear my voice. She asks me to call. She also says that it is the sea­son for green lentils at home in Idlib and that she has picked a handful for me and put them in the letter.”
Omar’s wife has yet to join him in Sweden but he carries the letter, folded neatly and placed carefully in his wallet; his “ticket back to the past, to a happier time,” he said.
“For those living in exile, the ob­jects one brings from home are of utmost importance. No object is too ordinary as it represents all the magic of the past,” said Elna Nord, project manager of the exhibition. “Through the exhibition, we want visitors to get a picture of Syria be­yond newspaper headlines and to gain a historical perspective of the area. We hope the museum will be­come a place for meetings, memo­ries and new acquaintances.”
As well as the tokens of lives in ex­ile are other exhibits of the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities. Displaying contempo­rary and ancient objects, such as the two ancient tomb sculptures from Palmyra, side by side, the exhibition gives visitors an insight into Syria’s deep-rooted and rich cultural his­tory, as well as the area’s role as a meeting ground for people and cul­tures.
“Stories from Syria” at the Muse­um of Mediterranean and Near East­ern Antiquities, Stockholm is to run until spring 2018.

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