For reasons of security, Museum visitors—and most staff members—never set foot inside The Met's "Damascus Room." That privilege, however, was given to my Curatorial Studies class in October 2012. Curator Navina Haidar first traced the history of the room, which was created in 1707 as a winter reception room (qa’a) for an affluent family. She explained its complex decorative program, with walls sheathed in delicately painted and gilded wood, its floors graced by a fountain and covered with fine marble, its wall niches showcasing precious objects. Dr. Haidar, with conservator Mecka Baumeister, then traced the history of the installation of the room at the Met and its reconstruction for the new galleries of Islamic art. At close hand, students could appreciate the modifications to the interior over the centuries and the subtle adjustments in the present installation that have resulted in a more nuanced presentation of the Damascus Room than was ever possible before. In light of the current political upheaval in Syria, this extraordinary glimpse of the artistic heritage of the region was particularly poignant.
Associate Curator, Department of Islamic Art
Alumna, Curatorial Studies