2019 Symposium

Program   |   Registration   |   Keynote Speaker   |  Speakers   |   Location

The purpose of the BeMACC symposium is to bring together scholars who are conducting research on artists and works of art that are represented in the collection of the yet to be built Beirut Museum of Art/BeMA, which for the most part consists of a permanent loan from the Lebanese Government’s Ministry of Culture (i.e., about 2000 works that de facto chart the entire history of the Lebanese Republic). In preparation for this event, we have already created a preliminary website that features the collection’s first online catalog and that will hopefully become a platform for interested scholars who are willing to share information about works and artists in question. In addition to presenting work on artists and works of art that are represented in the BeMA collection, the hope is to also thematize concepts of space, place, and temporality. The symposium will ideally serve to identify themes that cut across the collection and that a network of interested scholars can on the long run develop.


Friday, April 26, 2019

5:00pm Keynote: "Politics and the Production of Knowledge in the Art Museum Context"
Mari Carmen Ramírez  [abstract + bio]
Moody Center for the Arts Room 205

Saturday, April 27, 2019

9:00am Opening remarks
All Symposium presentations will take place in the Moody Center for the Arts, Room 205

9:30am Panel 1

Taline Boladian, "A Collection in the Making" [abstract + bio]

Yasmine Chemali, "From Archives to Collection Display: The Case of the Sursock Museum" [abstract + bio]

Gregory Buchakjian, "Collecting, Documenting, and Sharing Lebanese Art" [abstract + bio]

10:45am Break

11:00am Panel 2

Sarah Rogers, "Debating Abstraction in 1964" [abstract + bio]

Nada Shabout, "Contemplating Abstraction in the Arab World" [abstract + bio]

Natasha Gasparian, "Belated Modernity and the Avant-Garde through “the Entrails” of Aref El-Rayess’ Shāri' al- Mutanabbī" [abstract + bio]

12:15pm Lunch

1:15pm Panel 3

Kirsten Scheid, "Mourani’s Unbecoming Career: What Becomes of Becoming in a National Museum?" [abstract + bio]

Stephen Sheehi, "Reclaiming Palestine: Time, Space and the Refusal of the Partition of the Sensible" [abstract + bio]

Kristine Khouri, "Art collections Online: Models and Considerations" [abstract + bio]

2:15pm Roundtable

5:00pm Reception


This symposium is free and open to the public. Registration, however, is required. Registration form »

Keynote Speaker

Mari Carmen Ramírez

"Politics and the Production of Knowledge in the Art Museum Context"

The last twenty years have seen a significant surge of attention worldwide around the issue of archives and their capacity to preserve, recover or uncover knowledge. What were once dusty institutional or private repositories have become prized “war” chests of scholars, researchers, curators and even artists, a situation that led French philosopher Jacques Derrida to coin early on the term “archive fever” to describe this phenomenon. While this trend extends to a number of fields, it is particularly conspicuous in the one that concerns all of us: the art museum. Whether conceived in terms of periodization (encyclopedic, modern or contemporary) or responding to public or private interests, more and more of these cultural organizations are attempting to incorporate research initiatives into their mission. The “archive fever” is particularly evident in art museums committed to telling the stories of under-represented groups and artistic movements operating at the local, national or global level or those that have been erased from history through the repressive actions of colonial powers or authoritarian regimes. Beginning with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, a number of these institutions have sought to dedicate resources to gathering, cataloguing and displaying in both physical and digital formats the written manifestations and supporting materials of artists and creative individuals from emerging or marginalized regions. This talk will delve into the theoretical and practical implications of such an endeavor with particular attention to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Documents of Latin American and Latino Art Digital Archive Project.

Mari Carmen Ramírez is the Wortham Curator of Latin American Art and Director of the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. A globally renowned authority on modern and contemporary Latin American art, Ramírez has published extensively and curated numerous award-winning exhibitions, including Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America (with Héctor Olea). She’s also conceptualized and implemented the ICAA Documents of 20th Century Latin American and Latino Art Project, a major digital archive and book series focused on primary sources. In 2005 Ramírez received the Award for Curatorial Excellence granted by the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College. That same year, TIME magazine named her one of “The 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America.”




Taline N. Boladian

"A Collection in the Making"

As the foundation for its permanent collection, the Beirut Museum of Art (BeMA) has secured the vast and important collection of the Lebanese Ministry of Culture, comprising of over 2,300 works of art. This impressively comprehensive group of works reveals the masterpieces of over 470 Lebanese artists who, for the most part, generously donated their works during the respective years they were created. Other works were carefully selected and purchased by the Ministry based on the relevant cultural subject matter and importance of the artist to their contemporary artistic scene. In the first part of this presentation, we will discuss the history of how the collection was assembled, where it was placed and how it was scattered among five locations. Then we will examine the collection itself: how it was inventoried, the selection processes of “museum-worthy” pieces, and lastly the current state of the collection.

Taline N. Boladian is the Co-Founder of BAKS / Art Advisory, a private art consultancy firm specializing in appraisals, art events, publishing and curating. Prior to establishing this firm, Mrs. Boladian held the title of Assistant Vice President 19th Century European Paintings at Christies, New York; and Head of Department in Orientalist Paintings and Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern works of art at Bonhams, New York and Dubai. During her time with the auctioneers, she performed in a wide variety of roles, including research, appraisals, business development and client relations; her efforts resulted in many successful auctions and record-breaking sales for the departments. Mrs. Boladian’s knowledge of the art business is backed by her extensive education. Having received her degrees in Art History, Economics and French at Columbia University, she continued her studies in Paris, Florence, and London, where she received her Masters at Sotheby’s Institute and Manchester University. She also assisted the Research and Library Director of the famed Museo degli Uffizi in Florence and worked in the curatorial departments of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Mrs. Boladian is currently on the board of Lebanese and American NGOs, serves as a charity auctioneer for several non-profit organizations and regularly gives lectures on collecting and investing in art.


Gregory Buchakjian

"Collecting, documenting and sharing Lebanese art"

In 2012, the Saradars, a family of bankers initiated an art collection and formed a committee of experts to advise on the acquisition of artworks. The first step in the process consisted of defining the scope of the collection. The theme that imposed itself most naturally was a portrait or a landscape of Lebanon. Not restrictive to classical landscapes in painting and photography, it would include social, political, historical or intimate representations. It was broad enough to include a large variety of artworks. Nevertheless, it constituted a filter that would direct towards the most appropriate pieces. Based on this scheme, the Saradar Collection started to acquire artworks ranging from Omar Onsi to the present period, making choices that would establish new readings and perspectives, contribute to an art history and, in a broader sense, to human and social sciences in Lebanon and the region. In 2018, the Saradar Collection disclosed to the public, through its website, the 250 artworks it holds, a database of 500 texts and video interviews of artists. The website also features Perspective, an annual project where a guest curator engages critically with a theme inspired by the Saradar Collection.

Gregory Buchakjian (b. 1971) is an art historian and interdisciplinary visual artist. PhD graduate at Université Paris IV Sorbonne, he is director of the School of Visual Arts at Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA). Buchakjian’s research deals with art in Lebanon, focusing on city and history with publications such as Fouad Elkoury, Passing Time (Beirut, Kaph Books: 2017) and Traversées Photographiques. Le journal du Docteur Cottard (Beirut, Arab Image Foundation: 2017) and his contributions to On Photography in Lebanon: Essays and Stories (Beirut, Kaph Books, 2018). His exploration of abandoned dwellings and PhD dissertation generated the exhibition Abandoned Dwellings, Display of Systems, at Sursock Museum, Beirut, 2018, curated by Karina El Helou and the book, Abandoned Dwellings, A History of Beirut (Beirut, Kaph Books: 2018, Valerie Cachard, ed.). Also in 2018, his Fragments from the Ridge Line were in Lebanese pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale and his Fragments from the History of Civil Aviation in Lebanon part of the Works on Paper accompanying Cycles of Collapsing Progress exhibition in Tripoli. Member of the advisory committee of the Saradar Collection and the publication committee at Alba, he took part in juries including Sursock Museum Salon d’Automne (2009), Villa Empain’s Boghossian Prize (2012), Beirut Art Center’s Exposure (2013) and Beirut Art Residency (2017).


Yasmine Chemali

"From Archives to Collection Display: the case of the Sursock Museum"

Despite a growing trend in exhibition design that is in favor of displaying individual artworks in such a way that they can be viewed prominently, the Sursock Museum in Beirut moves away from this tendency, attempting forge different relationships and confrontations between the works. Opened to the public since 1961 – and reopened in 2015 following a seven-year-long closure – the Sursock Museum is dedicated to making its permanent collection accessible, as part of a larger educational mission aimed at both local and international publics. To that end, the Museum’s archives are central. Providing the institution with legitimacy as well as a base for dialogue, the archives are part of a bigger scheme: building the collection and contributing to the production of knowledge. The Museum as a public space is not merely viewed as an exhibition space, but as an exchange platform and a research hub. Over the past three years, through our active and collaborative exhibition and parallel program, the Museum has gained the trust of artists’ estates, individuals, and former galleries, who have deposited or donated their archives to the Museum so they can be accessible to all. The archive have played an important role in the process of expanding the collection as well as displaying it to the public.This talk will present the Sursock Museum collection and its history, with a special focus on the status of its archives.

Yasmine Chemali has been head of collections for modern and contemporary art in Beirut’s Sursock Museum since 2014. Since 2011, she has also been responsible for the Fouad Debbas Collection, a unique collection of images produced in the Middle East between 1830 and the 1950s. Having trained in conservation at the École du Louvre, specializing in Islamic arts, Yasmine Chemali focuses on preserving the Museum’s collections and making them accessible to the general public through exhibitions, parallel programs and publications.


Farès el-Dahdah

"Like What Should it Look?"

The roundtable discussion will focus on what possible (and desired) form might an image repository take for the yet to be built Beirut Museum of Art. What existing models ought to be adopted (e.g. DSpace, IIIF, Omeka, Arches, TMS)? How might collaboration among divrese sets of scholars be fostered? Is there still room for innovation? Does a particular collection warrant evolving metadata schemas? These are only a few questions, among many others, to be addressed...

Farès el-Dahdah received his undergraduate degrees in fine arts and in architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design and went on to pursue his graduate studies in urbanism and architectural theory at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. Following a two decade long professorial track at Rice University's School of Architecture, he was appointed director of the Humanities Research Center in 2012 and Professor of the Humanities in 2014. With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, el-Dahdah co-led the 2015-16 John E. Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures titled, Platforms of Knowledge in a Wide Web of Worlds: Production, Participation, and Politics and the 2016-17 Rice Seminar titled, Chronotopic Imaginaries: The City in Signs, Signals, and Scripts. This has led to his current research interests, which include the development online geospatial platforms that describe cities over time, as they existed and as they have come to be imagined.


Natasha Gasparian

"Belated Modernity and the Avant-Garde through 'the Entrails' of Aref El-Rayess’ Shāri' al- Mutanabbī"

Aref El-Rayess is an artist who deployed a gamut of styles, forms and ideologies both synchronically and diachronically over the span of his career. His is a practice which, arguably, can only be grappled with negatively, through its frictions and contradictions. In my presentation, I will focus on the overlaps between the various bodies of his work from the 1960s and 1970s, in terms of a dialectic of advance and retreat which is both symptomatic of a belated modernity (and its bourgeois institutions, namely the fine arts tradition) and disruptive of it. Here, El Rayess remains grounded within the tradition of fine arts but advances his critique immanently from within. Taking his Moutannabi Street series as my starting point, I will read his work through the conjuncture of multiple aesthetic, political, and temporal nodes, and not as discrete groups of paintings with different sets of concern. By way of illustration, the Moutanabbi Street series was produced a year after a “palliative” turn to still lives of flowers, which itself followed the most overtly militant series of his work Blood and Freedom [Dimā’ wa Hurriyya]. I propose that it is in internal and external tensions and contradictions that Aref El Rayess’ practice is avant-gardist. In these two decades, the internal contradictions between Aref El Rayess’ revolutionary aims, and his periodic counter-revolutionary impulses on the one hand, as well as the belated negotiation and refunctioning of the legacy of the avant-garde from which he had been occluded on the other, constitute his practice as avant-gardist.

Natasha Gasparian is a Beirut-based art historian. She works at Agial Art Gallery and Saleh Barakat Gallery as a writer. She has also curated two exhibitions, Ziad Abillama’s The Twisted Wing of the Airplane King (2017) and Hiba Kalache’s Lemonade Everything Was So Infinite (2018), in the latter space. She recently assisted curators Sam Bardaouil and Til Felrath on the first edition of the Saradar Collection’s web-based project, Perspective. She is the two-time recipient of the Maria Geagea Arida Award from the Association of the Promotion and Exhibition of Art in Lebanon (APEAL), and is currently completing her master’s degree in Art History and Curating at the American University of Beirut.


Kristine Khouri

"Art collections Online: Models and Considerations"

Mass digitization efforts from the early 90s around the world, from libraries and archives, to initiatives like Google Arts & Culture, paired with growing field of Digital Humanities projects has provided a background for the development of projects in digital art history. This as well as an open access movement also pushed museums to open up their collections online for access, and develop departments for digital storytelling around their collections, and research around them. This presentation will present some models strategies by institutions to share and exhibit data and images of artworks including Google Arts & Culture, The Met, SALT, Artl@s, Asia Art Archive, as models for ways to engage with artwork and knowledge production. The talk will also address some of the limitations of platforms and initiatives considering the ethics of AI, sustainability and needs of a collections and the context in which it is displayed.

Kristine Khouri is an independent researcher and writer whose research interests focus on the history of arts circulation and infrastructure in the Arab world, and archival practices and dissemination. Together with Rasha Salti, she is a co-founder of the History of Arab Modernities in the Visual Arts Study Group, a research platform focused on the social history of art in the Arab world. Together with Rasha Salti she initiated ‘Past Disquiet’ a long-term research project which began in 2008 and was transformed into an archival and documentary exhibition Past Disquiet shown at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2015), the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2016), the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Santiago (2018), the Sursock Museum, Beirut (2018). They co-edited the publication, Past Disquiet: Artists, International Solidarity, and Museums in Exile published by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw (2018). Khouri also curated The Founding Years (1969–1973): A selection of works from the Sultan Gallery Archives at the Sultan Gallery, Kuwait (2012), and co-led a Digitizing Archives Workshop with Sabih Ahmed of the Asia Art Archive in Kuwait as part of Art Dubai’s Global Art Forum (2015). She is a member of the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut.


Sarah Rogers

"Debating Abstraction in 1964"

At the 1964 Salon d’Automne, held at Beirut’s Sursock Museum, artist Shafic Abboud (1926-2004) received first prize for his lyrical abstraction, Child’s Play (still in the museum’s collection today). The result was a fraught debate in the Lebanese press over the public’s ability to understand modern abstract art and, in turn, abstraction’s relevance towards defining a national Lebanese art. Later that year, painter Stélio Scamanga (b. 1934) penned a manifesto-like exhibition statement, “Toward a New Space: The Perspective of the Abstract.” This paper takes 1964 as a key year in which several of Lebanon’s leading artists expressed a dedication to abstraction as a truly modern language alongside a series of exhibitions, manifestos, and critical press reviews that fiercely debated the universalists assumptions of modernist abstraction. Focusing on a select number of works dated to 1964 in the BeMAC collection, the presentation will begin to contextualize the different aesthetic visions within the competing ideologies and political alliances of the Cold War, growing concerns over Lebanese nationalism, and art’s role in representing national ideals.

Sarah Rogers is an independent scholar and a founding member and President-elect of the Association of Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World, Turkey, and Iran (AMCA). In 2008, she earned a PhD from the History, Theory, and Criticism section of the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the dissertation, “Postwar Art and the Historical Roots of Beirut's Cosmopolitanism.” She has taught at Southern Methodist University, Notre Dame University outside of Beirut, Amideast Jordan, and Middlebury College and has held fellowships at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Palestinian American Research Center, and Columbia University Global Centers, Amman, Jordan. From 2009-2011, she served as Director of Research at Darat al-Funun in Amman. She is co-editor of Arab Art Histories: The Khalid Shoman Collection (2014) and co-editor of Modern Art in the Arab World: Primary Documents (2018). Her current book project examines modern art in Lebanon within the international context of the cold war.


Kirsten Scheid

"Mourani’s Unbecoming Career: What Becomes of Becoming in a National Museum?"

Recovering archives of early Lebanese artists and institutions may consolidate our understanding of the founding of the art movement and its connection to nationalist ideology, but it threatens permanent losses if it hews too closely to the categories that produced our extant art practices. Having participated in this recovery, I will discuss the case of a document trove I nearly missed. The sketch books, accounting books, address books, letters, press clippings, passports, registration papers, photographs and commissions of Philippe Mourani (1875-1974) densely distill an illustrious career that carried the painter between Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Basel, Trieste, Paris, Munich, and Algiers. It seems Mourani was so successful that he has practically vanished from the post-colonial art scenes of all of his home countries. The memory void in the official registers can be redressed with the many documents newly available, but a larger set of questions arises: How do we use archives and museums not simply to fill in categories given to us by current political conditions but to rethink their structuration? How can an anthropological approach to “becoming” work with material that seems to document “accomplishment”? What other histories could such troves open into, and by which disciplinary methods?

Kirsten Scheid (PhD Princeton, Anthropology 2005, BA Columbia Art History 1992) is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the American University of Beirut. She writes about imagination technologies, affect, social change and art historiography in cross-cultural encounters. She has served as a consultant or participant in exhibitions and publications at the Beirut Art Center, the Riwaq Biennale (2014), the Palestine Museum (2018), the New Museum (New York, 2011), the Tate Modern (London, 2014), and the MoMA (New York, 2014-18). In 2016, Scheid co-curated “The Arab Nude: The Artist as Awakener” (American University of Beirut). Scheid has held postdoctoral research positions at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Université Paris V, Ecoles des Hautes Etudes des Sciences Sociales, the Arts and Humanities Initiative at the American University of Beirut. She is 2019’s Clark-Oakley Humanities Fellow. Her research has been supported by the Palestinian American Research Center, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institut de recherche pour la développement France. She has authored essays in Aggregate, Anthropology Now, ARTMargins, the International Journal of Middle East Studies, Jadaliyya, Middle East Report, and Museum Anthropology. She is completing a monograph on the founding of art institutions that solidified the sense of a Lebanese nation (1920-1950).


Nada Shabout

"Contemplating Abstraction in the Arab World"

The twentieth century witnessed several shifts from figuration to abstraction around the Arab world for multiple reasons. In many cases, the shift signified a specific articulation of what was perceived as a negotiation of a decolonized aesthetic insofar as it mediated a sense of resistance and rejection. Moreover, different art groups found through abstraction a way to consolidate their past (ancient and Islamic) and present. Nevertheless, recent articles have highlighted a connection between abstraction and the CIA and their role of promoting abstraction as part of their cultural diplomacy in the Middle East. This paper revisits abstraction, its significance, meaning and formulations in the Arab world during the mid-twentieth century through examining several examples and exploring some of its objectives and reasons.

Nada Shabout is a Professor of Art History and the Director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Initiative (CAMCSI) at the University of North Texas, USA. She is the founding president of the Association for Modern and Contemporary Art from the Arab World, Iran and Turkey (AMCA). She is the author of Modern Arab Art: Formation of Arab Aesthetics, University of Florida Press, 2007; co-editor with Salwa Mikdadi of New Vision: Arab Art in the 21st Century, Thames & Hudson, 2009; and co-editor with Anneka Lenssen and Sarah Rogers of Modern Art in the Arab World: Primary Documents, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2018. She is the curator of Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art, Interventions: A dialogue between the Modern and the Contemporary, 2010; co-curator of Modernism and Iraq, Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, 2009, and curator of the traveling exhibition, Dafatir: Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, 2005-2009. Her awards include: Writers Grant, Andy Warhol Foundation 2018; The Presidential Excellency Award, UNT 2018; The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII) fellow 2006, 2007; MIT visiting Assistant Professor, spring 2008, and Fulbright Senior Scholar Program, 2008 Lecture/Research fellowship to Jordan.


Stephen Sheehi

"Reclaiming Palestine: Time, Space and the Refusal of the Partition of the Sensible"

Does colonially have a time and a space as Mark Rifkin suggests? What is the relationship to time, space, visual representation and sovereignty in Palestine? This presentation will explore one archive, that of Wasif Jawhariyyeh’s seven photograph albums, to stake the claim that photographic practice by Palestinians (which includes collecting and disseminating as much as producing) establishes a counter-history of time for Palestine that rejects that partition of 1948 and the dispossession of the Palestinian people. This talk will argue for reading that retools Jawhariyyeh’s albums as a re-appropration of stolen images in order to redistribute them, returning them to their rightful space and time in a reclaimed Palestinian physical, historical, and visual geography.

Stephen Sheehi is the Sultan Qaboos bin Said Chair of Middle East Studies at the College of William and Mary. He is the author of Arab Imago: A Social History of Photographic Portrait 1860-1910 (Princeton, 2016), Islamophobia: the Ideological Campaign against Islam (Clarity, 2011), and Foundations of Modern Arab Identity (Florida, 2006). He is also co-author with Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar of Camera Palaestina: Wasif Jawhariyyeh and the Emergence of the Palestinian Spectator (forthcoming, University of California Press) and co-author with Lara Sheehi, Psychoanalysis Under Occupation: Theory and Practice in Palestine (forthcoming, Routledge).



The symposium will be held in Rice’s Moody Center for the Arts (Room 205, 2nd floor). Plan your trip using this interactive map of Rice University or follow the link below to a custom Google map.

MCA location


The Moody Center for the Arts is located on the campus of Rice University, and is best reached by using Campus Entrance 8 at the intersection of University Boulevard and Stockton Street. As you enter campus, the building is on the right, just past the Media Center. There is a dedicated parking lot adjacent to the building. Payment for the Moody Lot is by credit card only. Additional parking is available in West Lot 4. Read more »

Travel within Houston

Rice University is situated between the Museum District, The Houston Medical Center, Hermann Park, and Rice Village. All of these areas are pedestrian friendly and approximately a 10- to 15-minute walk apart. The free Rice University shuttle service also serves these areas from campus. Downtown Houston is accessible via the METRORail Red line, a light rail service with a convenient station between Rice and Hermann Park.