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Elias Zayat, Deluge: The Gods Abandon Palmyra, 2011–12, acrylic on canvas, 12' 3“ × 5' 8”. From: “Syria: A Living History.”

“Syria: A Living History”

Aga Khan Museum

Elias Zayat, Deluge: The Gods Abandon Palmyra, 2011–12, acrylic on canvas, 12' 3“ × 5' 8”. From: “Syria: A Living History.”

Visitors entering the Aga Khan Museum’s “Syria: A Living History” exhibition first encounter Deluge: The Gods Abandon Palmyra, 2011–12, a twelve-foot-tall, multipanel acrylic by Elias Zayat. A tempestuous image of shared flight, the painting evokes present-day Syria’s cataclysmic violence and the predicament of its refugees while simultaneously alluding to a richly layered multicultural heritage; flood stories are found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Qur’an, and the Old Testament. The work thus sets the tone for the exhibition as a whole, which provides a counternarrative to recent media depictions by presenting Syria as an intricate cultural mosaic that evolved over thousands of years. From an ancient Mesopotamian eye idol made of gypsum (ca. 3200 BCE) to work by contemporary Syrian artists, forty-eight objects bear witness to the numerous civilizations, including Assyrian,

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