Issam Kourbaj, Scaling the Dark Seeds, Sands, Moons 2021

The Dutch National Museum of World Cultures has invited Syrian-born artist Issam Kourbaj to curate an intervention in the Tropenmuseum Lichthal, where he combines his own artworks with objects from the collection that inspire him. The intervention marks ten years since the start of the crisis in Syria. Thousands of miniature boats, a rare 16th century Herbarium and more form Fleeing the Dark, an exhibition about migration, growth and hope.

Kourbaj’s site-specific installation of thousands of miniature boats tenderly counts the days, weeks and months lost since the start of the Syrian crisis. The renowned BBC program A History of the World in 100 Objects has recently chosen Kourbaj’s installation of miniature boats as the 101st object because of its unique ability to encapsulate the past decade. “An ancient Syrian eye idol from the National Museum of Antiquities (RMO) Leiden reminded Kourbaj of many Syrians waiting to return to their former homes and inspired him to carve figurines from Aleppo soap blindfolded, emphasizing the carvings’ vulnerability.”

Issam Kourbaj, Scaling the Dark Seeds, Sands, Moons 2021
Issam Kourbaj, Scaling the Dark Seeds, Sands, Moons 2021

The unique 16th century Rauwolf Herbarium with preserved Middle Eastern plants from Naturalis Biodiversity Centre is on display for the first time in Amsterdam. Kourbaj combines his handwritten poem written across the back of 366 used postage stamps with an Arabic exercise book from Indonesia.

Roemeria hybrida (violet-horned poppy flower) uit het Rauwolf Herbarium, 1574 – 1576, verzameld in Syrië. Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden
Roemeria hybrida (violet-horned poppy flower) uit het Rauwolf Herbarium, 1574 – 1576, verzameld in Syrië. Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden

Doors from Aleppo hang from the ceiling of the Tropenmuseum Lichthal and children’s sole-less shoes mark migrations to Europe. Kourbaj utilises discarded materials to make most of his artworks, and he saw parallels in the recycled materials used in some of the museum objects that spoke to him for their deep connection to our everyday lives.

Issam Kourbaj, The Breadline is the Frontline 2021
Issam Kourbaj, The Breadline is the Frontline 2021

Kourbaj’s artworks deal with themes related to the Syrian crisis, some of which are deeply personal to his own history. The intervention, however, tells a more universal story, reaching beyond the borders that define our world today. What can a simple drawing carved on a bowl from Aleppo tell us about our human journey in a time when we are forced to live apart? Like seeds, we all have the urge to put down roots and belong. The theme of seeds and renewal that returns throughout the exhibition foregrounds much needed hope. Some of the miniature boats carry one burnt seed.

Schaal, Aleppo, voor 1963. Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, TM-3317-19
Schaal, Aleppo, voor 1963. Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, TM-3317-19

Issam Kourbaj’s expo is on view until the third of October.

The info is extracted from the press release.

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