The Modern Art Iraq Archive (MAIA): Web tools for Documenting, Sharing and Enriching Iraqi Artistic Expressions

  1. 1. Sarah Whitcher Kansa

    Alexandria Archive Institute

  2. 2. Nada Shabout

    The University of North Texas

  3. 3. Saleem Al-Bahloly

    University of California Berkeley

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The Modern Art Iraq
Archive (MAIA): Web tools
for Documenting, Sharing
and Enriching Iraqi Artistic
Kansa, Sarah Whitcher
The Alexandria Archive Institute
Shabout, Nada
The University of North Texas
Al-Bahloly, Saleem
University of California, Berkeley
1. Overview
The Modern Art Iraq Archive (MAIA) project is
a participatory content-management system to
share, trace and enable community enrichment
of the modern art heritage of Iraq. The focus of
the project is thousands of works of art, many
of them now lost, from the Iraqi Museum of
Modern Art in Baghdad. MAIA is unique in that
it not only documents the lost artworks, but also
provides tools for community enhancement of
those works, allowing contribution of stories,
knowledge and documentation to the system, as
well as syndication of the content elsewhere on
the web.
For the past eight months, participants in this
project have been building a comprehensive
virtual archive of the works in the Museum's
various galleries, including a database of
images and information about the objects
(artist name, title, date, dimensions, subject
matter, medium, condition, current location,
related works, etc). These significant national
treasures are displayed in an open format
that invites participation from users worldwide,
including the Iraqi national and expatriate
communities, and users will be encouraged to
help identify and understand individual pieces.
The MAIA system, which integrates two extant
content management systems, Open Context
and Omeka, will provide a valuable research tool
for scholars, students, as well as the general
public, but most importantly for Iraqis: these
works of art form an important expression of the
Iraqi national experience.
2. Project History
The Iraqi Museum of Modern Art, formerly
the Saddam Center for the Arts (Markaz
Saddam lil Funun), was established in
1986 as Iraq's museum of modern and
contemporary art. During the invasion of
Baghdad in April 2003, the structure was
severely damaged by fire and looters. Without
security and protection from the occupying
powers after the collapse of the Baath regime,
its collections of approximately 8,000 modern
and contemporary Iraqi paintings, sculptures,
drawings and photography, dating from late
19th century until April 2003, were entirely
looted. Prof. Nada Shabout's research based on
sources inside of Iraq indicated that while some
works were smuggled outside of the country,
most works were still on the market for sale in
Baghdad. At an early stage after the invasion,
about 1,300 works were found at the National
Gallery's basement. They have since been are
stored at a facility administered by the Ministry
of Culture, without restoration, authentication
or archiving.
While the fate of the collection is tragic enough,
what exasperated the situation further is that
the Museum's inventory and documentation
disappeared with the works as well, meaning
that missing works cannot be traced or
repatriated. Nada Shabout has spent the last
three years collecting and digitizing all available
information about the lost works through
meetings with artists, gallery owners, and art
educators. In this time, she has found that the
situation is dire, with improper documentation
and accessioning procedures, scant publication
and recording in catalogs, and a lack of inventory
for the two decades before the invasion. In the
end, the richest available information is in fact in
the recollections of individual people; hence, the
imperative to develop ways for people to share
their knowledge of these works.
3. Approach
The MAIA prototype integrates two existing,
open source, content delivery systems, Omeka

and Open Context. Omeka (
) is an open source, collections-based
publishing platform that allows individuals and
organizations to share collections, structure
content into exhibits and write essays. It offers
customizable themes and a suite of easy-to-
install add-ons for customizing site appearance
and functionality. Omeka brings Web 2.0
technologies and approaches to academic and
cultural websites to foster user interaction
and participation, while making design easy
with a simple and flexible templating system.
Robust open-source developer and user
communities underwrite Omeka's stability and
Open Context (
) is
a web-based, open access data publication
system that supports enhanced sharing of
museum collections and field research data
by enabling researchers and cultural heritage
collections managers to publish their primary
field data, notes and media (images, maps,
drawings, videos) on the web. It is free and
uses open source software built on common
open source technologies (Apache-Solr, MySQL,
PHP, and Dojo Ajax) widely accessible
and supported by a vast global developer
community. Open Context uses Apache-Solr
to power a "faceted browse" tool, which
allows for much more informed navigation and
understanding of collections than the "type and
hope" approach of simple key-word searches.
This component also delivers web-services,
enabling a feed-based approach to syndicating
content and integrating collections distributed
across the web. These web-services represent
a powerful, scalable, and elegantly simple
way to facilitate aggregation across multiple
MAIA's approach integrates features of these
two systems to maximize the collection's
reach, discoverability and creative reuse.
Omeka offers a user-friendly platform for
building, customizing and organizing the
MAIA collection, as well as allowing options
for contributions and comments from the
community. However, search functionality
is limited and Omeka content is largely
confined within each Omeka instance, despite
its support of OAI/PMH and some feed
capabilities. Finally, while Omeka offers
stable URLs for every item, Omeka users
need to make additional arrangements for
archiving their collections. Open Context
complements Omeka's capabilities with a
faceted browse "plugin," offering powerful
web-service capabilities that enable distributed
search and syndication of content. These
capabilities make Open Context a more
powerful platform for supporting aggregation
and mashups. Open Context's faceted browse
tool provides a much more informed overview
of a collection, showing fields associated with
content even for custom metadata, allowing
exploration beyond simple searches. The Open
Context plug in will also greatly expand Omeka's
feed capabilities, allowing users to draw custom
feeds tailored to their specific interests (such as
a particular artist, time period and/or region).
Any Omeka site implementing the Open Context
faceted browse plug-in will be indexed by Open
Context, opening up Omeka content to dynamic
searching across multiple collections. Finally,
Omeka collections using the Open Context
plug-in will benefit from accessioning by the
California Digital Library. Thus, Omeka's user-
friendly collections management and publishing
functions are joined with Open Context's
powerful web services to increase the reach and
potential for reuse of MAIA content.
Taking advantage of the flexibility in content-
management and sharing provided by the
integration of these two powerful, open source
systems, the MAIA platform is available for free
on the web and offers the following additional
: All static content in the system
is translated into Arabic. Participatory tagging
and commentary features are also available in
multiple languages.
Community input
: A tagging system allows
users to comment on any item in the database,
thus enriching the content and helping build a
memory of the lost works. Users can also link
to external content related to the works.
: Easy citation retrieval makes MAIA
a useful research tool. Unique citations are
generated for every single item in the system,
and Omeka expresses bibliographic metadata
in a format that the popular Zotero citation
management tool can recognize.
Copyright Pragmatism
: The creators of
many of the works included in the website

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2010
"Cultural expression, old and new"

Hosted at King's College London

London, England, United Kingdom

July 7, 2010 - July 10, 2010

142 works by 295 authors indexed

XML available from (still needs to be added)

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (5)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None