Jewish-Syrian Metal Art
A rare look at a lost art by Maurice Nseiri
November 1—19, 2015
Lobby, Fourth Floor
For hundreds of years, the Jewish artisans of Damascus honed their skills in the ancient craft of metalwork, an intricate form of art traced back to the Mamluk Dynasty in Egypt (circa 1250).
One such craftsman was Sion Nseiri. Sion passed on the skill to his son Maurice, who is now the last practitioner of this ancient art. After the establishment of Israel in 1948, the tide turned against the Jews in Syria, and they faced terrible persecution. Syrian Jews were forbidden to travel more than three miles from their hometown. Those attempting to escape faced execution or forced labor. If an escape was successful, remaining family members could be imprisoned and stripped of their property.
When the Syrian Jews were finally permitted to leave in 1992, a mass exodus began and the clanking of metal tools no longer reverberated in the streets of the old Jewish Quarter. The Jewish craftsmen of Damascus had gone. Nseiri's works can still be found across the Middle East at synagogues and mosques, the Sheraton Damascus Hotel as well as at the Syrian Presidential Palace where he created the front brass gates, lamps and other items.
This exhibit offers a rare look at a handcrafted work that is a testament to the rich history of the Jewish community of Syria—from worship to family life, the rituals, humor and strength.
In the Press:
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sunday, November 1
2:00 - 5:00 p.m.
The exhibition debut will feature a collection of Nseiri's metal-art work, a children’s workshop and light refreshments.
Sundays | November 8, 15
Try your hand at creating your own Syrian-styled lantern and adopt techniques that were used in producing the sought after creations of the Omayad bazaar.
At 71 years old, Jewish metal artist Maurice Nseiri has amassed a great body of rare art. Described as both brilliant and colorful, his work tells a story of religious persecution, perseverance and determination.
Maurice studied the art under the tutelage of his father, Sion Nseiri, before taking over the workshop in the Omayad bazaar in 1965. When the Israeli spy Eli Cohen was uncovered and arrested by Syrian security officials in January of that year, a receipt from Sion’s shop was found in Cohen's possession. The Mukhabarat swept into the Nseiri workshop and arrested Maurice’s father, brother, and all employees.
In 1970, Nseiri closed his workshop and attempted to flee to Israel via Lebanon but was arrested at the border. Following the Jewish exodus from Syria in the early 1990s, Nseiri emigrated to Canada.