Keeping you informed about Palestinian cultural heritage research, and our work here at the Archive

Keeping you informed about Palestinian cultural heritage research, and our work here at the Archive

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Yasmine Chemal's post on Lydie Bonfils

Portrait of Lydie Bonfilsprivate collection
documentation of Fouad Debbas, TFDC
source

To celebrate International Women's Day the British Library's Endangered Archive's blog published a very interesting post by Yasmine Chemali, grant holder of EAP644, about Lydie Bonfils and early women photographers in the Middle East.

It begins:
"Photography arrived in the Middle East in 1839, the same year that Louis-Jacques- Mandé Daguerre produced his first daguerreotype in France[1]. Félix Bonfils, a French printer who migrated from France to Beirut along with his family in 1867, established one of the first professional photographic studios in the Middle East. Very little is known about women photographers in the region. Félix’s wife, Lydie Bonfils, can be considered the first professional woman photographer in the region. 
"This blog will focus on the Bonfils production and especially on the photographs that could be attributed to Lady Bonfils. The Fouad Debbas Collection, based in Beirut, Lebanon, is the most important private collection of photographs and archives of the 19th and of the first half of the 20th centuries currently conserved in the Middle East, with approximately 40 000 photographs of the region. EAP 644 is currently focusing on digitization and assessment of the Debbas Bonfils collection
"Much has been written so far about the Bonfils family and their photographic establishment in Lebanon. From the moment they moved from France (Gard) to Beirut, Lebanon, until the establishment was sold to Abraham Guiragossian in 1907, Félix (father), Lydie (mother) and Adrien (son) produced one of the largest bodies of photographic work in the Middle East...."
We have several Bonfil photographs in the Archive's collection, including the one below, which is also illustrated in the post.

Group of Bedouins from Jericho c.1876-85
albumin print, Maison Bonfils
TFDC_520_034_0644
source

Establishing which member of the Bonfils family took them is tricky, and Yasmine Chemali explores this, noting:
"Traditionally, all photographs signed Bonfils were attributed to Félix, but it is now clear that both Lydie and Adrien contributed to the firm’s pictorial output. Specific authorship, however, is at best very speculative…"
Woman from Nablus c. 1876-85
albumin print
attributed to Lydie Bonfils (?)
TFDC_139_026_0619
source

We have assumed - but without good research - that Félix’s wife, Lydie Bonfils, took some of these because of her gender.  It looks like we were on the right track as Yasmine Chemali also discusses this later in her post:
"Due to social conventions in the Middle East, it is presumed that Lydie made the photographs of female subject."
But Lydie's role it appears was much wider.  We encourage all Archive friends and Education officers to  read Yasmine Chemali's beautifully researched and very interesting post, which you'll find here :)

Young woman from Lebanon c. 1876-85
albumin print
attributed to Lydie Bonfils (?)
 TFDC_520_002_0257.
source

Thursday, February 13, 2014

From the Archive's Research Library - Evelyne Bustros and Georges Cyr's "Lebanese and Syrian costumes" 1939

Kurd Street Sweeper, Beyrouth
Evelyne Bustros and Georges Cyr 
"Lebanese and Syrian costumes" 1939 
Publisher: Beirut, Lebanon: Impimerie Catholique

A recent acquisition of an indigo Syrian coat (which we'll post about in a day or so) provided a welcome opportunity to spend some time looking through Evelyne Bustros and Georges Cyr's portfolio "Lebanese and Syrian costumes" which was published in 1939 by Impimerie Catholique in Beirut.  

The copy in our library is bound but it usually comes unbound as portfolio. This is useful if you are planning an exhibition of Syrian or Lebanese costume. The little water colours look beautiful displayed, especially if you match them up with correctly attired mannequins.  We've displayed them in two of our exhibitions. 

The portfolio contains twenty-five water colours by Cyr of Syrian and Lebanese folk costumes. 

Alaouite women
Evelyne Bustros and Georges Cyr
"Lebanese and Syrian costumes" 1939
Publisher: Beirut, Lebanon: Impimerie Catholique

A poem by Evelyne Bustros appears at the beginning of the portfolio.  Evelyne Bustros was an interesting woman.  Samar Kanafani provides some background in her The Daily Star, Lebanon article "Evelyne Bustros is honored once again" (October 10, 2001):
"Already one of the first women in the 20th century to claim recognition in literary and political circles, Evelyne Bustros garnered another honor Tuesday when the Francophone Summit’s cultural committee dedicated a conference in her name. 
"Held Tuesday at the Rencontre des Cultures pavilion at Riad Solh Square, the conference was conducted by Ghassan Tueni, the publisher of Beirut daily newspaper An-Nahar, with Culture Minister Ghassan Salameh in attendance. 
"Bustros, who was born in 1878, emerged on the literary scene with the 1926 publication of her first novel, The Hand of Allah. This effort, the first French novel published by a Lebanese woman, thrilled reviewers as a genuine exploration into the meaning of Arab identity in a French colonial world. Only after its distribution in Egypt did the novel appear on Lebanese book shelves. Girded by this triumphant debut and her increased popularity, Bustros became active in the Lebanese feminist movement, organizing powerful demonstrations to promote women’s rights, according to Tueni. “The emotion was so great when one of these demonstrations happened to coincide with a march, which we organized to demand independence (from the French mandate),” Tueni recalled. 
"Bustros’ political concerns and nationalist sympathies extended her enthusiasm well beyond women’s issues and literature. Among the few women to claim a prominent political role in the struggle for independence against the French, Bustros was the only female signatory of the National Pact’s preliminary draft in 1937, Tueni said admiringly.
Until her death in 1971, she wrote novels, chronicles, essays, and poems whose force continues, even today, to resonate artistically and politically. Ever founding literary and political clubs, Bustros helped, in the 1930s, to establish the first club to include both Muslim and Christian authors. “Evelyne left behind a great heritage of which we are very proud,” Tueni exclaimed. Bustros’ complete  works are available in a single anthology, published by Dar an-Nahar."
Hauranese Bride
Evelyne Bustros and Georges Cyr 
"Lebanese and Syrian costumes" 1939 
Publisher: Beirut, Lebanon: Impimerie Catholique

Georges Cyr is also interesting - a French artist who dedicated his life to Lebanon.  In his  reviews an exhibition of the artist's work in Lebanon (The Daily Star Friday, 22 June, 2007) James Farha discusses Cyr's Lebanese ouvre:
"Businessman Raymond Audi, one of Lebanon's most active arts patrons, has gathered together the privately held works of French modernist painter Georges Cyr for a two-month exhibition entitled "Georges Cyr dans les collections libanaises."  
"The exhibition includes examples of Cyr's work from many stages in his artistic life, but it focuses on the art he produced after he moved to Beirut from Normandy in 1934. "Cyr represents two important traditions in the history of art in Lebanon," says Sarah Rogers, an art historian and PhD candidate in the history, theory and criticism of art and architecture program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Rogers is particularly knowledgeable on Lebanese art history and has taught in the department of visual art at Notre Dame University in Zouk Mosbeh.  
"First is the cultural crossroads that have long given form to art in Lebanon; the French Mandate opened the country more to all things French, and because of the legacy of the laissez-faire economy put into place by the mandate, Beirut's role as a locus for the trafficking of goods and services, and artists, only further developed post-1943," adds Rogers. "Secondly, his atelier served as an artistic meeting place and studio for training others interested in art which is part of a longer history of art in Beirut. For instance, before the Lebanese Academy of Fine Art [ALBA] established its art department in 1943, followed by the American University of Beirut's 10 years later in 1953, artists in Lebanon learned their craft in the studios of the previous generation such as [Charles] Corm and [Habib] Srour." 
"The Cyr collection on view now is made up of 96 privately owned paintings organized in six rooms. The exhibition includes works in pencil, ink, watercolor, oil and gouache. The paintings chart his career through the first half of the 20th century and encompass a broad range of modernist styles ... Cyr's works are arranged in roughly chronologically order, and it is striking that even shortly before his death in 1964, he was still producing a great range of styles - from light, playful watercolors of people at a picnic to heavy cubist oils and landscapes"
"Light, playful watercolours" is a good description of the art works in "Lebanese and Syrian costumes".

Village Woman of the Homs Plain
Evelyne Bustros and Georges Cyr 
"Lebanese and Syrian costumes" 1939 
Publisher: Beirut, Lebanon: Impimerie Catholique

The contents page lists each print with regional and social identification: "a Homs midwife", "a Kurd street-sweeper", "Merchant from Damascus" etc.  An eclectic range of religions / geographic areas / communities are represented.  However the watercolours are detailed enough to be extremely useful, in terms of traditional costume identification.
Bedouin woman of Akkar Plain, Lebanon
Evelyne Bustros and Georges Cyr 
"Lebanese and Syrian costumes" 1939 
Publisher: Beirut, Lebanon: Impimerie Catholique

The contents list sometimes contains a little more information about the costumes.

Peasant woman of the Hama Plain
Evelyne Bustros and Georges Cyr 
"Lebanese and Syrian costumes" 1939 
Publisher: Beirut, Lebanon: Impimerie Catholique

For example, for plate 19 "Village women of Ferouz and Zaidal in the Syrian Plain" 

Village Women of Ferouz and Zaidal in the Syrian Plain
Evelyne Bustros and George Cyr 
"Lebanese and Syrian costumes" 1939 
Publisher: Beirut, Lebanon: Impimerie Catholique

the additional text reads "petit point tapestry stitch on cotton or velvet materials coin studded headdress worn only after marriage".  While for plate 3,  "A Homs midwife"

Homs midwife
Evelyne Bustros and Georges Cyr 
"Lebanese and Syrian costumes" 1939 
Publisher: Beirut, Lebanon: Impimerie Catholique

the additional text reveals "the tcharchaff" (striped material covering the clothing) worn in all Syria before the Great War, is only to be found in the interior nowadays"

Woman of the Djebel Druze
Evelyne Bustros and Georges Cyr 
"Lebanese and Syrian costumes" 1939 
Publisher: Beirut, Lebanon: Impimerie Catholique

You can still acquire copies of the portfolio via Ebay, both as a portfolio and sold separately. Sometimes other prints come up for sale that are not in the portfolio - like the sheik here.  It's always worth keeping an eye out for these :)

Syrian Bedouin Woman 
Evelyne Bustros and Georges Cyr 
"Lebanese and Syrian costumes" 1939 
Publisher: Beirut, Lebanon: Impimerie Catholique 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Palestinian embroidery in Australian Gourmet Traveller


You would think that - considering it's beauty - Palestinian embroidery would turn up in modern magazines more often.  Stylists are always looking for lovely materials to use in photographs in home style and travel magazines, etc.  And the fact that many good quality older Palestinian embroideries are on linen and worked in silk cross stitch gives them a lovely texture.

But it's actually quite rare.  Which is why we were delighted to spot a piece of Palestinian embroidery in this month's Australian Gourmet Traveller (page 94 of the Dec 2013 edition).


And such a lovely piece it was, too, with it's classical leech and comb designs in red and black cross stitch embroidery. It looks similar to pieces in our collection from the early 1950s, when the women in the refugee camp embroidery projects began using a more Westernized form of the saru / cypress tree to make their embroideries more attractive to the Western market.


The Gourmet Traveller section features recipes for Christmas / festive ham glazing and is impecibly styled by Geraldine Munoz, a stylist who's work we've admired for some years now.


We were interested to find out where Ms Munoz sourced the piece of embroidery, but rather than a store the provenance was listed as "all props stylist's own".  Like all good stylists Ms Munoz has built up a collection of interesting items - fabrics / decorative pieces etc -


which she can draw upon when the time is right. She may not even be aware this piece of embroidery is Palestinian, as she might have acquired it from a local op shop or vintage textile store either in Australia or abroad. She may have selected it for this styling assignment because of it's Christmas tree like motifs, it's linen texture or it's white, red and black colour scheme.   


Whatever her reasons, we think it's perfect Ms Munoz has used this piece in a Christmas feature - after all it could hardly have closer ties to the Holy Land :)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Time for a five minute break

Wherever you are in the world, when you stop for morning tea this morning, why not take 5 minutes to enjoy both the music and artist Paula Cox's magical expressive line in her video:


That's what we'll be doing during our tea break :)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Palestinian Heritage Museum, Tulkarm


Murad Shishani reports for BBC News on another small museum keeping Palestinian heritage alive, this time in Tulkarm in the West Bank :)
"Bassam Badran has been collecting Palestinian heritage artifacts for most of his life - but not just for his own enjoyment. On al-Mintar hilltop in the West Bank district of Tulkarm, the 64-year-old has set up the Palestinian Heritage Museum, where his treasured possessions are carefully displayed for all to see. 
"Badran says the aim of the museum is to keep the Palestinian heritage alive. "Theodore Herzl said a very famous sentence and the Israeli policies these days are built on it. He said: 'Every Jew should got to Palestine because we are a people without a land for a land without a people'. He ignored the Palestinian people I will prove to him through Palestinian heritage that the Palestinian people have lived on this land and still live and will continue to do so, God willing," the curator said. 
"The Palestinian Heritage Museum traces the region's long history, from the Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods, to the era of the early Crusades and the British Mandate. One of the more precious items is a lamp used by the 'Orient Express', a train that used to run from Istanbul to Egypt through what was known then as Palestine. 
"They used kerosene or oil to light it up and when they wanted to ask the train to stop, they would signal like so, and when they wanted to ask the train to depart it would signal like so," Badran said as he showed how the light worked. Badran said his collection of newspaper clippings showed Palestinian merchants used to export millions of boxes of oranges before the Second World War, while a gold-plated bell pays testament to another significant historical event. 
"On the Titanic, there were Palestinians. The Titanic sank into the sea and the Palestinians (who were on board) also drowned like the rest. Their family at home heard that they drowned on the Titanic, so they held a memorial service and made five bells and gave them as gifts to schools so they could be rung in remembrance of those who drowned on the Titanic," Badran explained. 
While some of the items on display have little monetary value, they offer a valuable glimpse into the past, showing the old Palestinian currency and passports dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. 
The devoted collector said that while he received words of support for his museum from the Palestinian National Authority, he had spent over 40 years funding the project himself.
"Anyone who wants to collect heritage items needs to have these three traits: the will to collect, and secondly, the time. I have been collecting since 1972, so time is needed. Also you need money, the monetary issue is important. Imagine that I buy the Palestinian pound for 400-1000 (US) dollars, the 100 pound bill is worth 150,000 (US) dollars or more," Badran said. 
With his unique collection of artifacts, Badran says he is determined to maintain the Palestinian national heritage. And he hopes that one day, his prized museum will be even be recognized by the U.N.'s cultural body, UNESCO.