The Damascus Room in Dresden: Ayman’s Research Fellowship at the SKD

Dana Korzuschek

Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

In 2013 the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD) and the British Museum agreed upon a cooperation which makes the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden the first institutional partner of the International Training Programme (ITP) in Germany. Since then the SKD has offered two fully funded fellowships a year to former ITP participants at one of their 14 museums in Dresden, Herrenhut and Leipzig. For the duration of six weeks and up to three months the fellows have the chance to join the team of SKD for an international research project.

One of our Research Fellows in 2015 was Ayman Al-Shweiki (Palestine, ITP 2012), who worked with Anke Scharrahs at the Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden (Ethnographical Museum Dresden) on the project  “DAMASCUS ROOM – Daily life in 19th century Syria and Palestine (Levant / Bilad al-Sham)”. The Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden holds a set of elaborately embellished wooden panelling that once adorned the walls and ceiling of a reception room for guests in a noble family home in Damascus. These rare and beautiful panels, which spent a century hidden in storage, are currently under restoration, with the goal of revealing their original colorful surface decoration and re-erecting them as an intact room. In order to better understand the use, function and historic context of Syrian reception rooms, Ayman worked on finding historic photographs and written sources reflecting lifestyle and hospitality practices in 19th century Damascus and other cities of the former Ottoman province of Syria (Bilad al-Sham), today Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine.

At the end of his stay in Dresden, Ayman gave a presentation on the themes and questions of this project as well as the results of his research. The presentation was held at the Wissenschaftsforum (scientific forum). The Wissenschaftsforum is an SKD event that takes place three to four times each year, approaching a different topic every time. It gives colleagues of the SKD the opportunity to discuss the latest research aspects concerning curatorial and conservational museum activities.

In December 2015 colleagues of the SKD engaged in the collections’ comprehensive research project “Europe/World” gave presentations on the latest state of their project. For this Wissenschaftsforum a new format was chosen for the presentations: Instead of giving lectures, the respective project coordinators designed posters including details on the project idea, important facts and numbers, themes and questions of the project as well as some illustrating photographs. The focus was to get into conversations with each other and to discuss things in order to develop one’s project and to maybe even generate new aspects and ideas for the projects.

Since our cooperation with the ITP is also part of the “Europe/World” programme, Ayman and I also prepared posters. I gave an introduction on the project in general and the Research Fellows and Dresden Fellows that have visited us so far. Furthermore I informed my colleagues about the possibility to submit potential projects for the Research Fellowship 2016 and was able to discuss some interesting ideas!


Ayman SKD

Ayman at the Wissenschaftsforum. Photo: Dana Korzuschek

Ayman’s poster gave an overview on his project and final results of his research. In my opinion, one of the most interesting aspects Ayman discovered is the fact that travel accounts of female European travelers who toured the Middle East especially provide detailed descriptions of daily life aspects of Bilad al-Sham and its people, because private homes and spaces were more easily accessible for female visitors than male guests.

All in all it was a great afternoon, and I am very glad Ayman was able to join the presentations with his own poster. We always try to find the right occasion and event to let our Research Fellows conduct their presentation, but this was definitely something very special.

I already look forward to welcoming this year’s Research Fellows in Dresden or Leipzig! We are currently compiling a list of research projects in which the assistance of a Research Fellow is desired, and hope to receive many applications. Claire and Emma will advertise the SKD’s projects and send out further information in early March. Applications will probably need to be turned in at the end of March.