It has the warm feel of a dream-house by the beach, and inspires a happy sense of elevation as the temple it was designed to be. A new museum in Heri, North Lebanon, celebrates Nabu, the Mesopotamian patron-god of literacy.
Designed by Mahmoud al-Obaidi and Dia Azzawi, the architecture is a rust-colour cube of steel with a tall glass opening to the sea. Everything here is in defiance of the unimaginative white canvas often assigned to contemporary productions, or the historical overwhelmingness of more traditional museums. The space, made to allow the flow of movement and light, has all the good vibes of a whimsical train-station by the Mediterranean. A perfect non-place for the nomads amongst us, those who have been tempted to pitch our tents in airports and parking lots.
Unbothered with petty distinctions between art and artefacts, the solemnly hopeful space is a pleasant reminder that the human legacy is first and foremost a sensual exercise of feeling one’s way through stories being told. The private museum’s first exhibition includes contemporary works alongside archeological artefacts from the region; like a rough outline of what still is, a cradle of civilisations. Physically standing amongst these objects, the visitor can only fill in the blanks with the immediacy of their present consciousness.
The introspective exercise doesn’t have to be cruel and existential. The here and now is a simple reminder that yesterday and tomorrow are just a matter of time. The present is hiding somewhere between a bronze 1st Century statue of a dancing Aphrodite, and Katya Traboulsi’s re-appropriation of war in boldly painted bombs bearing the names of various countries in the region. Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, get to exist, not just as they are, but also as the places they were dreamed up to become, and with the power of a perspective that will achieve the dream.
Why are not all museums that good? Why are they built like mausoleums instead? There’s something about the balance of fluids and matter in the environment. Nabu is a starting point with ambition rather than a search for memory. A temple for the literacy of time, as a mix of entangled matter that starts at the dawn of time, and grows at the intersection of people. Its dance goes beyond limitations of technology and tools and post-whatever. The goal here is to build and build and build, like an antidote to the prevailing din. It’s a place to think, to make stories un-tangle and stretch into their own algorithmic existence, within a clear logic of time that twists and turns to make itself whole.