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Can Heritage Objects Represent a Homeland?

 The Syrian Participatory Research Project at the Ethnological Museum of Berlin

This project focuses on investigating the Syria collections of the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin. It is an expansion of the Sharing Knowledge project, which explored the Museum’s Amazonia collection. Like the Sharing Knowledge project, it is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.   

The project aims to make the Syria collections more widely known, especially among Syrian communities in Berlin. It follows the participatory principle of carrying out research on collections together with the community, forging connections between participants and the material and immaterial cultural heritage contained in the objects.  

There project employs two strategies aimed at engaging participants in the project: the first is creating a committee of Berlin-based Syrians (both individuals and representatives of associations), which will meet over the course of the project and also organise public events to draw in further participants. The second strategy is focused on publishing the collections via an online platform, where all interested parties will be invited to contribute or comment on the items. 

The project aims to facilitate two key outcomes: on the one hand, it seeks to gather and exchange information about the collection items through community participation; on the other, it provides an opportunity for Syrians to get to know a significant part of their cultural heritage, with the objects serving as a focal point for an open discussion on a whole range of topics. 

It is important for this project to take the heritage objects as an impetus for re-conceptualising the contemporary meaning of cultural heritage. The objects will provide a starting point for a constructive conversation and reflection upon current issues. 

The project outcomes will be presented in the exhibition From… To… Zarkashat Turathia, on show from 6 May–5 September 2021 at the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin. This project is taking place in collaboration with the Forschungscampus Dahlem and is funded by Museum and Location.   

Institution: Ethnologisches Museum Berlin – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Project director: Mariam Bachich
Project participants at the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin: Dr Ingrid Schindlbeck, and Dr Andrea Scholz.
Participants from the Berlin Syrian community: Dr Swiess Al-Battman, Raja Banout, Jehan Daoud, Tamara Duedari, Dima Nassar, Salah Hebbo, Yeser Al-Amin (representative of the Union der Syrischen Studenten und Akademiker e.V. (USSA)), Dr Yasser Al-Hamwi (representative of the Homs League Abroad e. V.), Dr Ahmad Al-Rawi (representative of the Syrian International Geography Network), and Humam Al-Salim (representative of Syria Art).
Funding: Volkswagen Foundation
Duration: September 2017–January 2021