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Research: To Strengthen the Culture of Knowledge


Selected Research Proposals

Ahmad Khaled Al-Tobol | Documenting the Oral Memory as a Path Towards Coexistence and Civil Peace

This research discusses theories of oral memory documentation and some previous experiences in this field, including the methods of documentation, the details of the documented event and the results of the documentation process, in order to identify the overlapping elements and avoid the same shortcomings as these experiences. The research also looks at the concept of 'documenting oral memory' and the evolving ways in which people use it, as well as measuring its reliability in recent years. The research questions can therefore be summarized as follows: What is the process of documenting oral memory? What are its guidelines? What are the main successes and shortcomings of previous experiences with the documentation of oral memory? And what exactly are the guidelines adopted in this field?

Bassel F. Saleh | Clash of Slogans in the Lebanese Uprising of October 17, 2019

The October 2019 uprising attracted a wide range of political movements and people with different attitudes and behaviors, all trying to express themselves in their own way after suffering exclusion and marginalization for an exceptionally long time. A prominent pattern was the abolition of patriarchal and centralized structures and the prevailing authoritarian and class system. As a result, the uprising expressed several different and diverse values and cultures, resulting in 'fragmented' slogans that sometimes clashed at the level of discourse and political action. The research analyzes a selection of slogans that represent a turning point and a condensation of discourses aimed at the core of the established political structure. These slogans were also infused with concepts and ideas with profound cultural connotations. By analyzing these slogans and their different levels, we can raise a variety of questions and crystallize our research around the following questions: Was the October Uprising a new and improved political project, or was it a series of fragmented movements combined into one uprising? Did its slogans reflect a new model or was it merely a revolt against the established model?

Iyad Abu Samra and Sham Al-Olabi | Heterotopias of Nightfall

With the economic crisis deepening and electricity in the city getting shorter and shorter, reaching six hours a day at best, the streets of Damascus are in darkness. The path of a young man or woman after 8 p.m. is accompanied by a flashlight or the light of their cell phone, which illuminates the dark and narrow alleys of the city until they reach the nearest busy main street, where the headlights of passing cars give them enough visibility to reach the place where their friends are gathered. But what does the future hold? Are these modest methods a viable substitute for well-lit spaces for young people?
This research explores mechanisms to deal with the lack of street lighting in public spaces. It documents how people are adapting and how nocturnal spaces are changing in terms of their use and function. Local and economic circumstances have led to uses and scenarios that are quite different from the original designs from the 1970s. As the relevant authorities have neglected the built environment, people’s relationship with the city that surrounds them directly affects and is affected by the environment without any intermediaries.

Fadwa Abboud | Representations of War in Novels: A Study of the Syrian and Lebanese Narratives

This study examines the diverse types of novels that address war in the Lebanese narrative of 1975 and the Syrian narrative of 2011. It compares the themes addressed in the two novels and examines the similarities and differences between them, considering the time of each narrative. It also combines the cultural dimension with the critical dimension. Novels are not historiographical texts, but artistic and human testimonies. The war is an event that can be interpreted in many ways and is reflected in artistic production in several ways, with the novel recreating reality and presenting the author’s version of events.
The main research question aims to explore the wars in Lebanon and Syria through their novelistic interpretation – that is, their main themes, including migration, refuge, captivity, communication, the relationship with the Other, violence, and the transformations these themes have undergone in the novelistic narrative. It will also examine the forms of renewal of artistic expression in the narrative to reflect the new themes and values that emerged as a result of the war.

Hadil Endawi | Syrian Body as Hypertext – More than One Body: Somehow All Bodies Are Dead

The interaction between the literary and digital dimensions has led to a new form of literature, which in turn has brought about a digital, creative literary revolution. It has presented itself as an alternative literature that breaks with the classical models and artistic characteristics of traditional literature and becomes a revolutionary form of literature that rejects labels. During the revolution, Syrians resorted to online blogs, which freed them from all conditions and rules and allowed them to tell the story of their revolution in a way that we can read, hear, see, and feel. Through this multimedia literature, they have managed to influence the form of the story and the way it is told, turning events and phenomena into reality. In particular, the research looks at different forms of literary writing, such as expressive poetic texts, prose narratives, opinion pieces to Facebook posts that describe the daily lives of Syrians and discuss issues of identity, terrorism, displacement, and death. 
It also examines the impact of Facebook posts and opinion pieces as a form of digital literature on the development of a new concept of Syrian identity and the Syrian body by analyzing examples of collected texts written during the revolution. Through a semantic comparison, different perspectives on the Syrian body will be presented. The relationship of digital literature to the (Syrian) body is expressive and transcends the boundaries between the body, language, and the digital realm. When our Syrian history gives us a free space, when it expresses itself in all its splendor, we are confronted with the following question: Who are we?

Hani Al-Taflah | Library Transformations in Syria

This research examines the transformation of libraries in Syria in the last years of the conflict the extent of the damage and losses that affected private, public, and personal libraries, and the main public and private libraries that were destroyed. It also examines the new forms of libraries that have emerged because of losses, burnings, and destruction, such as the abandoned library, the burnt library, the mobile library, the library in exile, the secret library, etc.
The research also examines the experiences of other countries affected by armed conflict, such as Iraq and Lebanon, to identify the main initiatives and projects that have contributed to the recovery of the library sector, as well as the initiatives that have documented, preserved, and rehabilitated the contents of public and private libraries. The research also includes recommendations for the public and private library sectors in Syria to help stakeholders develop a new understanding of the reality of libraries in Syria.

Jawad Al-Habbal | Contemporary Stage Tech Specs: Syrian Diaspora Theater Meets the Datasheet

Syrian theatre suddenly found itself outside its usual geographical boundaries, freeing it from censorship and allowing it to play a new political, social, and cultural role after the 2011 popular uprising. These differences also extended to the elements of the theatrical performance itself, including text, acting, scenography, techniques, directing, and production. Interpretation was a functional necessity in the scenography of Syrian performances in countries where the native language is not spoken. However, the advanced performance venues also provided many opportunities for the creation of highly technical theatrical and aesthetic experiences. To achieve this, it was necessary to develop a special language of communication and to keep pace with rapid technological advances. As a result, most performances continued to use the same traditional techniques.
Our investigation therefore raises the following questions: Have Syrian performances in the diaspora made the best use of modern stage technology and achieved the visions before realization? Have they kept up with the technical standards for building relationships with venues and technicians and followed the adopted protocols?

Joelle Deeb | The Orontes River Repository – Earth Memory and Its Interrelation with Landscapes

In the midst of the timeless river Orontes, a complex series of narratives unfolds, revealing the profound interplay between water and human existence in the Levant. From the Bekaa Valley to as-Swaydya near the Mediterranean, we attempt to bridge the mnemonic gap as we navigate this intricate web between its past and the perceived present.
The embodiment of Earth's memory is confined to our space and, like us, is naturally subject to fundamental change. A quiet symphony of memories unfolds, and together these elements transform into more than just methods of remembering; they become survivors and storytellers. These transformations culminate in and are connected to depleted lands, natural absences, and their relationship to the depletion of natural resources and consequently to our collective consciousness. They in turn contribute to the irreversible destruction of indigenous landscapes. It is important to understand how indigenous knowledge and practices have influenced the changes and the role of local storytelling in evoking the memory of the land through the eyes of the people living in the Orontes Basin and beyond. In this context, it is also important to interpret the dialog between the land and indigenous practices.
What are the fragments of memory that the Orontes Basin suffers from, how are they embodied in our spatial practices, and how do we preserve the medium of expression that represents different evocations of the living archive in human consciousness?

Nagham Khaleel | Bedouin Heritage: The Intersection of Arts, Gender, and Situation

This research aims to preserve the rich cultural heritage of the Lebanese Bedouin community, a symbol of resilience and self-reliance threatened by modernity, patriarchy, climate, and economic crises. Through the use of the Photovoice method, members of the community, especially women, are involved in documenting and telling their cultural stories through photography, thus preserving their heritage and empowering them to present their unique identity. The participatory nature of the Photovoice method plays an authentic social role by empowering community members to become active co-researchers and storytellers, which strengthens their personal and collective sense of identity and resilience while serving as an important archival resource for future generations. The focus of this study is to explore Bedouin traditions, arts, and crafts, traditional knowledge, and sustainable environmental practices, particularly in relation to land, herbal medicine, and pastoralism. The project emphasizes the significant role of Bedouin women in enriching ecofeminism and reshaping gender roles by highlighting their deep connection to the land and Indigenous practices.
By initiating dialogs on environmental sustainability, gender equality, and socio-economic challenges, the research sheds light on the power of visual arts and storytelling in the preservation of cultural heritage. The aim is to show how Bedouin's tangible and intangible cultural heritage can be used to strengthen the community and address today's environmental and social challenges. By emphasizing the significant potential of Bedouin heritage, the project advocates for environmental and social justice while highlighting the important role of the local community in mitigating the climate crisis.

Omar Hosni | The Paradox of the Cassette: A Rebel or an Instrument of Hegemony? A critical study of the “Syrian Cassette Archives” and the search for alternatives in the struggle over heritage and memory

The various documentation and archiving projects in Syria are among the outstanding features of the country’s cultural activities after the outbreak of the “war”. The importance of these projects stems from the legitimate fears related to the loss or damage of these important cultural materials. At the same time, archiving is an attempt to write different cultural and political narratives about history and heritage, thus reshaping collective memory and shaping a Syrian cultural identity from the perspective of this or that group. In this context, the Syrian Cassette Archive was founded in 2021 as a non-governmental community archive supported and funded by the government of the State of Berlin. The archive consists of commercial Syrian popular music, especially the types of music that developed after the emergence of electronic sounds and instruments such as the keyboard piano and their use in popular music, as well as the emergence of the cassette as the first popular form of audiotape that could contain music not necessarily licensed by the authorities.
The aim of this research is to examine the Syrian cassette archive based on a mixed theory and research methodology. It examines the contents of the archive and analyses the contexts in which the musical forms it contains developed. The research also interrogates the model and purpose of the archive’s funding mechanism and its relationship to colonialist structures and policies in order to understand the impact of this intersectionality on the archive’s identity. In this way, the research challenges the main argument of its founders (who describe it as “an archive that challenges official, elitist, academic and artistic narratives”) and examines its ability to contribute to the provision of alternatives.

Lama Alkadi | Traditional Architecture as an Alternative Approach to Syria's Current Building Culture

Traditional building crafts are one of the most important forms of cultural and architectural heritage in Syria. They reflect an ancient heritage that reaches far back into history. The importance of these crafts is reflected in the design and construction of buildings using traditional and local materials and techniques that have been passed down through generations. These play a significant cultural and social role in shaping the architectural and spatial identity of Syrian society. The aim of this research is to understand traditional architecture and its context in Syrian cities and to analyze the problems that have led to its extinction. It proposes future solutions to develop traditional architecture as an alternative form of building. It also sheds light on the role of traditional building crafts in the dissemination of local cultural identity. Today, we are in a position to think about these materials and how they can be reused and developed, especially with the current global technological advancement in the field of sustainability and environmental awareness to change the prevailing notions in the region. The real challenge is to find ways to adapt traditional and local crafts and materials to modern developments and to know if they can remain an integral part of the urban and social fabric.

Mayyar Mhanna | Women as Filmmakers during Wartime: A Study on Syrian Women’s Cinematic Production After 2011

This research traces the entry of women into the world of filmmaking in Syria after the events of 2011, analyzing the nature of the productive flow that took place after years of male monopolization of the film industry. It also explores the relationship between the entry of women into the film industry on the one hand and the uprising and social and political change on the other, including waves of external migration and internal displacement. Likewise, it explores how political decisions kept women out of this industry by examining the history of female filmmaking before 2011 and the representation of women’s issues in Syrian cinema before the emergence of female filmmakers. It also presents examples of films in which women’s issues are portrayed by male filmmakers. Women’s filmmaking after the uprising was characterized by the separation between films made inside Syria and abroad, and between institutional and independent production. This led to the emergence of a women-centered production identity and movement. The research attempts to show the contrast between the political orientation of female filmmakers and the role of international festivals in presenting films by Syrian women. The question therefore arises: How and to what extent did the 2011 uprising enable women to document and narrate the war from their perspective?

Mirma Al-Waraa | Movie Theatres in Damascus: The Architectural Manifestation of Syrian Cinema

The relationship between Damascus and cinema began at a crucial turning point at the beginning of the 20th century, when Habib Al-Shammas screened an animated film in the café he ran in Al-Marjeh Square in 1912, seventeen years after the Lumiere brothers had shown their first film. This relationship has remained alive to this day and has seen several setbacks and significant advances, which has had an immediate and obvious impact on cinemas and the material expression of cinema in the country. Cinemas were also closely linked to modernist architecture in Syria and thus an important part of Syria's architectural heritage. Today, these cinemas have been neglected. Some are used for other purposes, while others have been closed altogether. At the same time, Syria's urban and architectural heritage and character is being deliberately neglected and systematically destroyed in order to promote the prevailing investment mentality. Therefore, it is necessary to research the origins of cinemas in Damascus and to archive and understand this history from the perspective of cinema as an art form first and as an industry, craft, and source of production second. The research also analyzes these issues from the perspective of architecture and the built environment, assuming that architecture and its patterns are the product of factors related to the city, its development, and its social, economic, and political needs.

Yara Saad | Rebel Voices

This research discusses the role of popular songs in the recovery of Syriac narratives about feminist struggles. How do orally transmitted stories and narratives store vocal echoes in the Levant? How are Syrian artists resisting oppressive regimes in Syria and abroad through sound art? What impact do their creative endeavors have on their communities in Syria and abroad? What role does their work play in the preservation and promotion of Syrian cultural heritage? Political folk music was marginalized in several geographical areas of Syria, and artists’ efforts focused on songs that did not contain any political connotations. However, with the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, voices that had never been heard before were heard. The study therefore poses the following question: how can oral practices help amplify the voices of people who have been historically marginalized and ignored in the music industry locally and around the world?

Ziad Adwan | Damascus Theatre Festival: Experimental Institution

This research deals with the steps taken by the Damascus Film Festival in the years of its foundation, during which it alternated between different currents. The festival hesitated to interact with and be inspired by the world theater, recommending, among other things, to open up to the world theater and to be wary of its influence on the authenticity of local theater. The festival also broke with the usual patterns of local theater distribution. On the one hand, post-independence Syria and the Arab Levant in general relied on individuals who learned the workings of theater in Europe and then returned to disseminate them in their social circles and provide the state with the necessary "expertise" to institutionalize theater. On the other hand, the festival also relied on experts who had mostly acquired their theater knowledge in Syria and Egypt.
On the institutional level, the festival pursued two models simultaneously: the first relied on public institutions and bureaucratic relations between the ministries of culture, while the second relied on central figures who often kept their distance from the bureaucracy. Given these opposing currents in the founding years, this research examines the gap between the Damascus Film Festival's ambitions and its actual capacities amidst the political and social turmoil in the Arab world, as well as the historical context that imposed a particular ideology and influenced the patterns of exchange and influence during the festival’s formative years and later.

Zoya Karmouka | On the Silk Road – Syrian Pottery

Pottery is a significant and characteristic feature of the successive civilizations that have flourished in Syria and a form of cultural heritage that has played an important economic and social role. It also reflects the crises and difficulties that these civilizations have faced. Given the limited academic and historical studies on pottery, this research proposal examines the origins of pottery and traces its development, its social and economic impact, and its role as part of efforts to establish a strong female presence in artistic narratives. The research will focus on the recent phase of progress in pottery in the world and in the Arab region since the mid-1990s until today, and the position of Syrian pottery in this global picture. It will also examine the developments that enabled pottery to evolve from an empirical and useful practice to an artistic and aesthetic endeavor that expresses the artist’s philosophy and vision. Furthermore, it seeks to translate and understand the influence of cultural heritage on the development of the artists’ modern aesthetic methods, while preserving their identity.

Jury Statement

The jury consisted of Marianne Noujaim, professor, and researcher at the Institute for Theater, Audiovisual and Cinematic Studies at Saint Joseph University in Beirut, Hiba Alkhalaf, international consultant and specialist in cultural heritage and the protection of historical places and sites, and Rama Najmeh, journalist and cultural researcher. The jurors met for two days in the first half of November and issued the following statement:

'We are grateful to have been able to consider exceptional and diverse proposals. For the 2023-2024 edition, 82 applications were received, of which 70 were considered by the jury. These applications covered various topics within the scope of this edition. They were submitted by academics from the Arab region and Europe. The applicants came from various fields of research, art, and other creative activities. Most of the proposals demonstrated a high level of academic commitment and seriousness and emphasized the need to integrate cultural research into cultural production practice.

The proposals were characterized by the clear involvement of a new generation of researchers. They addressed current issues that are closely linked to local communities. The proposals showed a willingness to confront serious and complex challenges facing cultural practice in Syria and Lebanon, as reflected in the important issues raised and the courage to express unique views. This indicates a strong desire to actively contribute to public dialogue and play a fundamental role in shaping cultural opinion. Accordingly, we have based our selection on supporting research that is characterized by methodological quality and a promising vision, contributing to the enrichment of cultural dialog and scientific thought.

The proposals were significantly diverse, with many projects focusing on examining architecture and its relationship with public space. We also noticed that the emphasis was on intangible cultural heritage and documentation, while proposals on individual creative practices such as painting and sculpture were rather rare.

We would like to point out the variety of scientific approaches proposed by the researchers in their proposals. We recommend paying close attention to this topic throughout the duration of the research and collaboration with the mentors. Most of the proposals deserve support in one way or another, as they are characterized by their methodology and the way they formulate the questions addressed. Several proposals that were not selected did not correspond to the specific themes of this edition. Therefore, they were not included in the final selection. It is important to point out that we were careful to consider research efforts in the context of the applicants’ progress and training.

Finally, the applications submitting research proposals on cultural practices in Lebanon were relatively few. We, therefore, selected 16 main applications for funding and propose to the program administration that the researchers write papers on the contemporary cultural landscape in Lebanon and assist their colleagues in their research efforts during the next year.

 

 

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