Exhibit: She Was an Archaeologist, Arabist, Diplomat and Spy

Gertrude Bell, a colleague of T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia) and the diplomat who drew the borders of modern-day Iraq, is the focus of a new exhibition opening Monday, Sept. 26, in the Gallery at the Whitney, located within the Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall St.

The exhibit, titled “Gertrude Bell in Mesopotamia: Archaeologist, Arabist, Diplomat, Spy,” will be on view through Dec. 16.

Gertrude Bell. Image credit: Yale University

Along with Lawrence, Bell was the best known, and most renowned European Arabist of the early 20th century. The second woman to graduate from Oxford, she traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, learning Persian and Arabic, and training as an archaeologist. Shortly after the turn of the century, she led important archaeological expeditions to Syria and Iraq, subsequently writing well-regarded and popular accounts of these expeditions.

During and immediately after World War I, Bell served as Britain’s Oriental Secretary of Iraq and was responsible for drawing the borders of the state of Iraq, engineering the accession to the throne of King Faisal, helping to quell the insurrection of 1920 and founding the Iraq Museum. Despite these accomplishments, Bell apparently committed suicide in Baghdad in 1926 at the age of 56.

“Gertrude Bell in Mesopotamia” gathers letters, maps, books, intelligence reports and photographs (many by Bell herself) to document her life.

The exhibition is curated by Robert Myers, this year’s Franke Visiting Scholar at the Whitney Humanities Center, and Miriam Ayres of New York University. Myers is a distinguished playwright and professor of literature and creative writing at the American University of Beirut, where he has also served as director of the Center for American Studies. Myers has designed this exhibition in conjunction with a staged reading of his play “Mesopotamia,” which will be performed Oct. 21 and 22 in the Whitney Humanities Center auditorium. (See the World Performance Project at Yale website for more details.)

“Gertrude Bell in Mesopotamia” is open to the public free of charge Mondays and Wednesdays 3-5 p.m. or by appointment at 203-432-0670.

*Source: Yale University

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