Author Archives: Melanie Pitkin

Powerhouse Museum Pop-UP @ Haldon Street Festival, Lakemba

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Curator, Glynis Jones, in the Museum's Pop-UP stall in Lakemba

Curator, Glynis Jones, in the Museum’s Pop-UP stall in Lakemba

On Saturday 24th August, the Powerhouse Museum ‘popped-up’ with a small object display and promotional stall at the Haldon Street Festival in Lakemba. Attended by more than 20,000 people, predominantly from the local Canterbury Council area, the festival was a fantastic opportunity for the Museum to bring some of its collection to the people – in particular, objects which not only help to promote a major upcoming exhibition opening at the Museum in 2014, but which have a special relevance and connection to some of the audiences we’re visiting.  Continue reading

Refugee Week 2013 – What’s the big deal?

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Welcome to Villawood Immigration Detention Centre © Elias Attia, 2013.

Welcome to Villawood Immigration Detention Centre © Elias Attia, 2013.

Refugee Week (Sunday 16 June – Saturday 22nd June, 2013) is “Australia’s peak annual activity to raise awareness about the issues affecting refugees and celebrate the positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society” (Refugee Week official website). In this blog post, we have invited Elias Attia to share with us his personal experiences working with refugee communities, specifically through his involvement with a charity organisation, SalamCare, which is closely affiliated with the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in western Sydney.

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Archaeology Week – Excavating an ancient Egyptian cemetery: pondering the ethics of working with human remains

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Excavating the Wadi Mouth site at the South Tombs Cemetery © Melanie Pitkin.

Excavating the Wadi Mouth site at the South Tombs Cemetery © Melanie Pitkin.

I’ve recently returned from the 2013 Spring Season excavations at the South Tombs Cemetery in Tell el-Amarna, Middle Egypt. Tell el-Amarna, or more simply Amarna, is the ancient Egyptian city built by the ‘heretic’ King Akhenaten, husband of Queen Nefertiti, in c. 1350 BC. Occupied for less than 20 years, Amarna is where Akhenaten broke with 2000 years of tradition to “pursue his vision of a society dedicated to the cult of only one god, the power of the sun – the Aten” (Amarna Project). Continue reading

How to make a stained glass window, Handel-style

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Studio of Philip Handel

Studio of Philip Handel, 2012. Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved.

Picture a large stained glass window inside a cathedral. You see a variety of colours – perhaps a contrast of red and blue, long slivers of yellow, or a striking sea of white. A pattern emerges, changing your interpretation of the window. At first you notice a figure in the centre of the window, which you perceive to be the image of Christ. Then more figures emerge, so you begin to piece together a narrative, reading the window as you would a novel. Now you are lost in the story, in the intricacies of light and colour, in private thought and reverie.

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Ramadan, Eid prayers and the Museum

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Eid prayers at Lakemba Mosque, 2011. Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved.

Eid prayers at Lakemba Mosque, 2011. Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved.

From the end of this week until August 19 is Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. During this time, Muslims fast everyday from dawn to sunset with the purpose of cleansing their mind and body, practicing self-discipline and re-focusing their worshop on god. At the end of Ramadan, a large celebration takes place called Eid ul-Fitr, or simply Eid. Family and friends dress up in their most beautiful clothes to celebrate in prayer and good company. As reflected in the Faith, fashion, fusion exhibition, designers release new collections specifically for this occasion. “Ramadan is our busiest month”, says Hanadi Chehab and Howayda Moussa of Integrity Boutique. “People buy a new outfit for everyday of Eid [it goes for 3 days]…and we start designing for it months in advance”.

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Refugee Week, Seeking refuge in hope

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Asme Fahmi (far left) with her mother and sisters.

Asme Fahmi (far left) with her three sisters Zainab, Rabia and May.

During the course of developing the Faith, fashion, fusion: Muslim women’s style in Australia exhibition, we met Asme Fahmi. Asme, 31, is a Community Engagement Project Coordinator with the Community Relations Commission, a third year Shariah Law student at Daar Aisha Shariah College and a student of Islamic Studies at Charles Sturt University. In addition to this, Asme also serves in a number of important volunteer roles for MuslimVillage.com, Mission of Hope, Foundations for Tomorrow and the Deen Intensive Rihla Program. We invited Asme, who is of mixed Iraqi-Syrian parentage, to share with us her personal family refugee stories in this special post ‘Seeking refuge in hope’ as part of National Refugee Week 2012.

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Refugee Week, Visiting Villawood Detention Centre

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Widyan Al-Ubudy outside the Villawood Detention Centre.

Widyan Al-Ubudy outside the Villawood Detention Centre.

This is the second post we are privileged to share with you by guest writer, Widyan Al-Ubudy, for National Refugee Week. In this post, Widyan recounts her personal experiences as a volunteer at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre and the deep and moving impact it has had on her. To find out more about Widyan, see her earlier post here. Continue reading

Refugee Week, ‘No more running a mother and daughter story’

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Widyan Al-Ubudy and her mother at the opening of the Faith, fashion, fusion exhibition.

Widyan Al-Ubudy and her mother at the opening of the Faith, fashion, fusion exhibition.

To recognise National Refugee Week, we invited Widyan Al-Ubudy, an up-and-coming journalist and media personality to write a post for the Museum about her personal experiences with refugees. Widyan, 20, originally from Iraq, was born in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia after her family escaped Saddam Hussein’s regime in the early 1990s. Continue reading

Mirath in Mind- Celebrating the legacies of Fairuz

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Mirath in Mind logo designed by M K Graphics

Community outreach and engagement is a core responsibility of any museum. This is what helps us to bridge social and cultural divides, develop greater tolerance and understanding, facilitate new connections and relationships with one another and expand our way of seeing.

The Powerhouse Museum has a long tradition of working together with communities, from our collections and exhibitions (see for example, Beirut to Baghdad: communities, collecting and culture, Our new home Meie uus kodu: Estonian – Australian stories and Ties with Tradition: Macedonian Aprons, among many others) to public programs, affiliated societies, regional services and online presence. One of these communities I have been strongly involved with is the Arab and Lebanese community (especially in Sydney and Melbourne) for two important projects. The first is an upcoming exhibition on contemporary Islamic women’s fashion in Australia (more of which will be revealed in the coming months) and the second, which I would like to share with you in this blog post, is an independent external organisation, Mirath in Mind, of which I am a representative committee member for the Museum.

Mirath in Mind is a non-profit organisation committed to celebrating and promoting the art, heritage and culture of the Arab and Lebanese world in Australia. Founded in 2010, Mirath (which means “heritage” in classical Arabic) focuses on a different cultural or artistic legacy each year and in 2011 it is the legendary Lebanese singer, Fairuz.

In case you’ve never heard of Fairuz before, it might be easier to compare her with a mainstream western performer. I would say she has the celebrity status of Madonna in the Middle East, but the elegance, grace and poise of someone more like Celine Dion. In terms of her singing abilities, however, she is unparalleled.

Fairuz was born Nouhad Wadi Haddad on November 21, 1935 in Jabal al Arz, Lebanon. She started singing at an early age, initially hymns and other popular songs of the time for radio (like Ya Zahratan Fi Khayali by Farid al-Atrash and Mawwal by Asmahan), before singing her own songs composed not only, but most famously, by brothers Assi and Mansour Rahbani. Together, they wrote many of Fairuz’s best-loved songs (my personal favourite is “Nassam Alayna”). They also scripted several of her films, including “Bint el-Haras” and “Safar Barlek”.

Fairuz recently performed at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam and some colleagues and I from Mirath were lucky enough to have secured tickets. You see, the Carré Theatre only has a capacity of 1700 and tickets sold out within a day of being advertised! Many travelled from far and wide to Amsterdam just to see Fairuz in concert. They came from Morocco, Palestine, Belgium, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and…Australia! Even though Fairuz performed only a small selection of songs, most of which were from her more recent albums, it was a magical experience and the fervour of the crowd carried over into the streets of Amsterdam until well into the wee hours of the morning! You can get a taste of the atmosphere by having a look at some of the television media coverage here.

Since one of Mirath in Mind’s key objectives is to educate and inspire the younger generations (who have an Arabic background, but not exclusively so) about the cultural icons and legacies of their native past, Mirath has been running a number of educational activities about the life and work of Fairuz. These have been taking place in schools and universities in Sydney and Melbourne where Arabic is a spoken language, among which includes St Charbel’s College Punchbowl, the Holy Spirit College Lakemba, the Holy Saviour School Greenacre, the Antonine College Coburg, the University of Western Sydney and Deakin University.

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Chadia Gedeon-Hajjar, President of Mirath in Mind talks to Year 8 and 9 students at the Holy Spirit College Lakemba about Fairuz. Image courtesy of Marie Joseph Abi-Arrage.

This has involved almost 1000 quizzes with students on the previously mentioned films, “Bint el-Haras” (for primary students) and “Safr Barlek” (for high school students), as well as a variety of singing, multimedia, drama, arts and crafts projects more broadly linked to Fairuz’s expansive career. We’ve also been running an essay competition in Universities, as we noticed there is a significant gap in well-researched, academic writing on the topic of Fairuz and the Rahbani brothers. All of this hard work will culminate in an Awards Gala Day ceremony that will take place at the Powerhouse Museum on Monday 21st November (the date of Fairuz’s 76th birthday upon which we will also be launching ‘National Fairuz Day in Australia’). On this day, the top performing students in the quizzes and essays will be awarded while the finalists in the creative and performing arts competitions will compete before a panel of judges for prizes (we’re even staging a ‘Fairuz Idol’!).

We are now starting to think about what other Arab cultural icons we should feature in future Mirath in Mind projects. Perhaps Khalil Gibran, Youssef Chahine or Sabah? What do you think?

If you’d like to find out more about the work of Mirath in Mind, please take a look at our website – www.mirath.org.au. Alternatively, you can contact me – melaniep@phm.gov.au. Please note the Awards Day at the Museum is by invitation only.