June 10th to September 11th, 2022

Syria - Against Forgetting

Dictatorship and war destroy: Human lives, cities, landscapes, material heritage. They also destroy memories. Memories of how things once looked, how people lived, how rich their culture is. The new exhibition "Syria - Against Forgetting" curated by Jabbar Abdullah on view at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum (RJM) in Cologne aims to counter this. The focus is not on the dictatorship of the Assad regime and its devastating war, not on the crimes of the so-called Islamic State. The exhibition is about the Syria that threatens to be forgotten under all this. It tells of a country with thousands of years of history, with the most diverse cultures and religions living side by side and with each other, with lively cities, diverse everyday life and vibrant contemporary art.

"Syria - Against Forgetting" is curated by Jabbar Abdullah, Syrian curator and archaeologist living in Cologne. "The exhibition was a matter close to my heart. In addition to the Syrian community, it addresses the German public, which seems to focus solely on the war, IS and the destroyed Palmyra. At the same time, I would like to counter the forgetting of Syrian culture in the minds of Syrian children. They have never been able to see the country of their parents."

With the exhibition, Jabbar Abdullah sets out to trace Syria's cultural memory. He shows historical Syrian artifacts from German collections in dialogue with contemporary positions and Syrian everyday life and memory culture. Along a timeline, visitors are guided through evidence of early human history from the caves of Yabroud, among other places. They gain insights into the development of cities and an impression of the different civilizations that once lived in Syria. A second section of the exhibition invites visitors to the cities of Aleppo, Damascus and Raqqa, which they can experience as "scenes". Calligraphy, film footage, and 3D projections illuminate Syria's cultural past and its recent history, particularly in these cultural centers.

Through the objects on display, a new chapter of Syrian-German history emerges, raising the question of how the objects came into the collection of German museums. In many cases, it was German scientists* who contributed to the understanding of early civilizations in present-day Syria with their archaeological research. They brought numerous finds to Germany. Many of them were destroyed during the Second World War, others were forgotten and are presented for the first time in this exhibition.

"Syria - Against Forgetting" shows visitors the Middle East from a Syrian perspective and opens up a space for Syrians to remember their first homeland and to share this memory.

The exhibition is barrier-free. Content is available in sign language as well as in the form of an audio description. In addition, some exhibits are available as 3D-printed touch tours.

An exhibition by 17_3_17, Verein der Förderer des Austauschs deutscher und syrischer Kultur e. V. curated by Jabbar Abdullah with the support of the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum.



Friday, 17.06., until Sunday, 26.06., Foyer
Live art of writing: For ten days, the Arab calligrapher Ibrahim Alsaeid will work in the museum, visitors are invited to watch him and to talk with him

Saturday, July 2, 3-6 p.m., construction site
Storytelling Café RESIST!
Syria - Against Forgetting. Everyday life in Almanya

In the storytelling café "Syria - Against Forgetting. Everyday Life in Almanya" will be about the memories and everyday stories of Syrian women* in Germany.

Thursday, Aug. 18, 7 p.m.-2 p.m., VHS Forum
Panel Ruins for the Future: The Cultural Heritage of Syria
Since the Syrian revolution in 2011, the destruction of world-famous sites such as Palmyra/Tadmor, and the war that continues to this day, the protection of cultural heritage has been in the public eye.

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2-4 p.m., Viewpoint.
Finissage with Al-Hakawati - Narrative Art from Syria

Syrian contemporary artists Athil Hamdan on cello and Hakawati Bassam Dawood bring the ancient storytelling tradition of their homeland back to life.



Tuesday, June 14, 7-21 p.m.
Welcome culture for whom? The suppressed yet present war in Syria.
A lecture by political scientist and journalist Kristin Helberg.

Thursday, June 23, 7-21 p.m.
Remember the beauty of Syrian everyday life
A reportage by the photo and video journalist Lutz Jäkel



Curator Tours
By Jabbar Abdullah

on action days in German and Arabic
Sunday, 19.06. and 14.08., 14-15 o'clock

for senior citizens
Thursday, 21.07., 15-16 o'clock

on Syrian-Jewish history in tandem with cultural scientist Tanja Lenuweit

Friday, 10.06., 15-16:30 hrs.
Neighbors: Jewish-Syrian History(s)

Wednesday, 06/29, 3-4 p.m.
Neighbors: Jewish-Syrian History(s)

Friday, 05/08, 15-16:30 hrs.
The Damascus Affair of 1840. A conspiracy narrative with consequences

Guided tours of the Museum Service

Beginning 06/26, every Sunday, 2-3 p.m. (except 07/03 and 08/14) and the following Wednesdays: 06/15, 07/13, 07/27, 08/10 and 08/31, 3-4 p.m.



Sunday, 19.06., Action Day
11-14 h: The art of writing
Calligraphy for children/youth from 8-16 years old

14.30-17.30: The art of reconstruction
Cork model making for children/youth from 8-16 years old

Wednesday, June 29, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. (16 years plus)
My father's Aleppo - On the trail of a Syrian-Jewish family history
with Lucas Frings and Ali Salam

Thursday, Aug. 4, 2-6 p.m. (16 years plus)
The Damascus Affair of 1840 - A conspiracy narrative with consequences
with Tanja Lenuweit

Sunday, 14.08., Action day

11-14 h: The art of writing
Calligraphy for children/young people from 8-16 years of age

14.30-17.30: The game of your childhood
Discovering, playing and building games for children 5-12 years old

Free workshops on calligraphy, children's games and text design
2 hours, for elementary schools and OGS, grades 2 and up.


More information

Jabbar Abdullah

Navid Kermani

Exhibition Team 17_3_17
Jule Klemm/ 17-3-17, Raphael Spiegel/ 17-3-17, Ingrid Töteberg/ 17_3_17, Stephanie Zeiler/ 17-3-1

Akhlis Abbis, (photography), Iraq; Saleh Alhajer, (painting/calligraphy), Syria; Mahmoud Alo, (photography), Syria; Ibrahim Alsaeid, (calligraphy, Krefeld/Syria; Boris Becker, (photography), Cologne; Yann Arthus Bertrand, (photography), France; Dieter Cöllen, (model Palmyra), Cologne; Horst Hahn, (photography), Cologne; Mohamad Harb (Abu Sobhi Al Tinaoi), (painting), Syria; Lutz Jäkel, (photography), Berlin; Keam Tallaa, (painting), Syria/France; Rody Thalo, (photography), Syria; Megumi Yoshitake, (photography), Japan

Text/ Authors
Hassan Abbas/ Syria; Jabbar Abdullah/ Syria, Khawla Alabdullah/ Syria; Mohsen Alali/ Syria; Hiba Bizreh/ Syria, Reinhild Bopp-Grüter/ Germany, Horst Hahn/ Germany, Tanja Lenuweit/ Germany; Meryem Sahin/ Germany; Ruwida Tinawi/ Syria; Suleman Taufiq / Syria; Jan-Waalke Meyer/ Germany; Estibaliz Sienra/ Mexico from Creative Memory of the Syria Revolution/ Syria

Editing Text
Svenja Paulsen, Ingrid Töteberg

Christine Battermann/ from Arabic

Design Media
Jörg Hustiak, Spokesman, Sara Mirault/ Yunow Berlin, Reinhard Munzel/ Archimedix GmbH, Liz Müller/ molitor GmbH Berlin

Nanette Snoep

Coordinating support
Caroline Bräuer

Conceptual consulting
Marie-Helen Scheid

Restoration and assembly
Petra Czerwinske, Birgit Depenbrock, Kristina Hopp, Stephanie Lüerßen

Partial editing
Dagmar Deuring

Commercial art
Lisa Baumgarten

With thanks to
Max Freiherr von Oppenheim Foundation; Institute for Archaeological Sciences, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main; Martin von Wagner Museum Würzburg Collection of Antiquities, Icon Museum Recklinghausen, Institute for Prehistory and Early History, University of Cologne; Elke Dörner; Brigitte Du Puytison; Horst Hahn; Harald Klein