There is another Syria, however. An alternate or parallel Syria, if you will, spanning millenniums, encompassing diverse yet interconnected cultures, peoples, religions and languages. Ancient interconnections that speak of continuities and continuations and resiliences perceptible, perhaps, in the quiet moments between explosions, the cries of the wounded, the scream of a jet-bomber, the whoosh of an Islamic State executioner’s sword.And this in particular caught my eye. (The article has a good photo of the tomb relief).
It’s a compact exhibition, just 50 or so objects and presentations drawn mostly from seven institutional collections, including the Louvre, New York’s Metropolitan Museum and the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as the private holdings of Torontonians Marshall and Marilyn Wolf. Yet, there’s a density and gravitas here that makes it seem very full indeed, albeit without the bloat that can accompany shows of an omnibus, centuries-hopping ilk.
Curators Filiz Cakir Phillip – she’s head curator at the Aga Khan – and Nasser Rabbat – he’s director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT – have wisely scrapped taking a chronological course, using instead themes such as divinity, the home and humans and beasts to organize the figurines, vases, steles, textiles, flasks, panels, fragments and stone reliefs. The oldest loan to the exhibition, from the ROM, is also one of the most tiny and delicate – a piece of gypsum, dating to 3200 BC, carved into the shape of two pairs of eyes.
Also compelling is the vitrined pairing of a Palmyrene tomb relief dated to 123 AD with a section of a 14th-century edition of the Koran telling of the Prophet Mohammed’s “night journey” to Jerusalem from Mecca and thence to heaven. The relief, in limestone, portrays the head and upper torso of a young woman, Tiklak by name, whose name and genealogy are incised on each side of her head in Palmyrene Aramaic. She’s the Mona Lisa 1,400 years before Leonardo got around to painting her.Cross-file under Palmyra Watch and Aramaic Watch. And there's lot smore on ancient Palmyrene Aramaic here and links.