The Open Museum Initiative for Water Culture – Basra Hub is an art-led initiative for the protection and revitalization of water heritage in the Fertile Crescent and Arabian Peninsula. From its hub in Basra, at the confluence of the Tigris-Euphrates river system and the Gulf, it connects regionally via the flow of the waters and their heritage of traditional practices, archaeological remains, and archival records.
From its hub in Basra, the Open Museum project reaches out via the fluvial system and civil networks of its region, to develop a museum-as-landscape, a network of “galleries” of living and preserved heritage wherever water has left its mark.
The project has emerged from fieldwork by artist-researcher Rashad Salim with Safina Projects (since 2016), whose initiatives to document and revitalize Iraq’s endangered maritime heritage search for the flow that connects us, highlighting the role of boats as a means of movement and relationship between peoples linked by water travel and trade.
In 2021, the Basra Open-air Museum Initiative was created when the “Material Cultural Heritage Lab”, in collaboration with artisan builders and Basra University’s architecture department, constructed a series of vernacular buildings based upon traditional reed and palm architecture to house Safina Projects’ collection.
The permanent collection includes traditional and historic boats and boat models; artifacts such as tools, materials, and water containers; and interpretative materials including presentations of archival photography and visual research. It continues to grow through workshops, study and creative development engaging with the region’s material cultural heritage.
Activities include educational, art and design projects; participation in conferences and festivals; and collaboration with local and international partners to build capacity in the maritime heritage and crafts sector.
Inspired by the Global Network of Water Museums, Safina Projects is reaching out to countries throughout the Fertile Crescent and Arabian Peninsula to invite collaboration towards a regional Open Museum of Water Culture. Building upon the Iraqi Heritage Boat Clubs Network, and on research and projects in the wider region that show its interconnectedness through water and culture, the proposal envisions how the landscape of water and its interdependent human heritage can be recognised and restored as a living museum.