Naama Yarmak: Finding the beauty in the brutal past

I have always been fascinated by antique objects. I was a good scholar in art history but the only books I had access to back then were piles of dusty encyclopedias. In my teenage…

Naama Yarmak: Finding the beauty in the brutal past

I have always been fascinated by antique objects. I was a good scholar in art history but the only books I had access to back then were piles of dusty encyclopedias. In my teenage years, I loved the idea of collecting stuff from history but it was a bit of a stretch to really imagine myself as an antiques dealer.

I studied agriculture at college before going on to a couple of graduate studies and was eventually invited by the Museum of Fine Arts in Alexandria to be an intern. I started off with my copy of Arabian Islamic Arts, an extraordinary collection, and discovered there were many good things to discover from a completely different perspective.

In 1971 the Museum of Fine Arts decided to create an Arabic world section in its flagship permanent collection, which had once been dedicated to Islamic Art. Art lovers would have access to a whole new world of creativity and insight in Arab art, the art of the Islamic world. Artists and craftsmen from the Middle East were looking towards the West but had few opportunities and certainly no exposure. I was envious of those who had the means to travel, explore and gain expertise and I wanted to help the Museum of Fine Arts in Alexandria create a similar space.

Over time we had our fair share of difficulties. At first the Omani population did not see what the need was, but slowly more and more people realised the value. Some people came from abroad too but it was crucial for the museum to do this work, particularly in Oman, to start up a programme, a club and a parallel education programme. In the late 1970s, we built our premises to include one of the first contemporary buildings in Alexandria.

[This task was delegated to me] in 1979 and I was able to raise capital in much more difficult times and secure the support of major institutions such as the Louvre and the Metropolitan in New York. We brought people together from around the world for many of our exhibitions and had a great deal of support from members of the public and museums, sponsors and donors. We also did a lot of work in the UAE and the Gulf states to help artists and craftspeople gain exposure to different markets. But in all those journeys I got to know some amazing people and their stories are as fascinating as the objects we deal with.

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