BEIRUT: A joint film and exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the American University of Beirut Archaeological Museum opened its doors to the public Thursday. The event was officially opened at the film’s premiere the day before at a ceremony attended by AUB President Dr. Fadlo R. Khuri, filmmaker Philippe Aractingi, museum director Dr. Leila Badre and others, including members of the Society of the Friends of the Museum.
Welcoming the audience, Khuri described the museum as a “treasure, not just of AUB and of Lebanon, but of the entire region.”
The film, which is projected along two lengths of the walls of the museum’s lecture hall, combines archival footage from the museum and the collection of its award-winning director/producer Aractingi. It opens with footage of a tram running along Bliss Street, directly outside the university campus. It follows the evolution of the museum under its nine curators, and the pieces in the museum collection, to which Aractingi aimed to give voice.
“You get to know the place, the object in-depth. Not only do you see them, but you know the story of them and you know how important it is to reveal these objects and to tell their stories,” Aractingi said. “When you film them in close shots as I did here, you can sense them, you can feel them, you can live with them. And you can hear them; this is why I gave them voices.”
“It was not easy but produced in a fantastic way,” Badre told The Daily Star. “[Aractingi] did something extraordinary by reproducing the feeling of the time.”
The exhibition, “150 Years of the AUB Museum,” is being held in the same room as the film, which it supports. One wall of the museum is divided into nine separate sections, each devoted to the tenure of one of the museum’s curators, focusing on each curator, the president of the university at that time, and the major milestones in the museum’s history.
Nada Zeineh, one of the exhibition’s curators, said it was intended to go “inside the memory of the museum.” Zeineh, who was heavily involved in assisting with the museum’s renovation, also included a “cabinet de curiosite,” featuring parts of the museum’s original collections, which included not only archaeology but also geology and natural history.
Badre told The Daily Star that the biggest challenge she had faced throughout her tenure was keeping the museum open during the Civil War, which began just as she took over as director of the museum.
“We were the only cultural place for all ages. We had lectures going on, we had children’s programs going on,” she said. “It was a challenge to keep the cultural life of the museum going.”
The other major task of Badre’s tenure was the museum’s major renovation, which she oversaw. “It really needed renovation because it needed to modernize, to make it attractive, and so many visitors who had been to AUB would make the remark that the museum seemed dead,” she said.
Her new vision involved “making it animated, lively, so I created the Society of the Friends of the Museum,” Badre explained. “I curated several activities, monthly lectures, yearly exhibitions.”
Badre oversaw a campaign to get more children involved by holding interactive Sunday events with children making their own mummies and mosaics, and also set about to give the collection a facelift, with higher quality explanations and illustrations for the exhibits.
“The museum really became like any high-standard museum in the West,” she said. “We didn’t have anything to envy.”