Beirut: The Sursock Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, nearly destroyed in the Beirut port explosion of August 2020, has finally re-opened to mark the third anniversary of the deadly blast.
Located only 800 metres away from the port, the Sursock Museum, which first opened its doors more than six decades ago, is housed in a historic building on Achrafieh Hill, overlooking downtown Beirut. Formerly a private palace belonging to a Sursock family member, it was transformed into an extravagant and beloved museum in 1961. Since then, it's become known for its iconic architecture, characterised by Venetian and Ottoman styles.
But the port explosion “buried decades of work” and reportedly destroyed 70 per cent of the building, shattering its signature stained-glass windows across all three floors and damaging several art pieces in the process. A fireproof door was stuck inside the cracked basement ceiling for a year, like a kite caught in a tree.
VIDEO: Lebanon's Sursock museum, heavily damaged by the deadly 2020 Beirut blast, prepares to reopen its doors after nearly three years of restoration work pic.twitter.com/JGAhq3n1zb— AFP News Agency (@AFP) May 26, 2023
The ALEF Foundation developed an emergency plan to fund the reinforcement, protection, and restoration of Beirut's cultural heritage in the aftermath of the blast, encompassing the museum.
After a three-year closure, a glimmer of hope has emerged. Restoration and rehabilitation efforts have been completed, and the Sursock Museum re-opened its doors earlier this month on 4 August 2023.
Lessons in light and darkness
After its reopening, Al Majalla visited the cultural landmark, touring its numerous diverse halls and collections, including permanent art exhibitions and new installations. The most prominent was the audio-visual experience “Ejecta” by Zad Moultaqa.
Inspired by the port explosion itself, Moultaqa’s installation presents thousands of digital images of the museum’s artworks, flowing in different forms along screens lining the walls of the grand basement hall.
The images are accompanied by a musical composition inspired by the sound of the explosion – fragmented and muffled by echoes and frequencies, mimicking the slow scattering of shattered glass in the streets of Beirut, which followed the tremendous seismic boom of the explosion. Glowing, semi-volcanic light projectiles flow like water and lava on the large screens in the spacious, semi-dark hall.