Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dr. Geza Fehervari and Tareq Rejab Museum Family

The below is an article I wrote and was published in 2004.  I posted earlier that Dr. Geza has died recently after several years of illness.  I only met him this once, but he made quite an impression and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Some people stand out.

I noted that my dear friend (from a distance), Claudia Farkas Al-Rashoud, has a lovely tribute to Dr. Fehervari in today's arab Times.  If you can get the paper today, please check it out.  Claudia is a brilliant writer and has quite obviously put her heart into this article.

Below is mine (not, I believe, as well written...)

Tareq Rejab Musum

The Tareq Rejab Museum is not only a collection of artwork, but a collection of people who share the same interests and love for their work.  The staff is an extended family that has been brought together by luck or fate or providence. The collection of people who have come together to work at the museum are as interesting as the objects they protect. 

The museum is located in the house belonging to the Rejab family, behind the Iranian school on Street 5 in Jabriya.  There is a sign above the door and (friendly and considerate) guardsmen at the main gate.  The only other differentiating characteristic of the building’s exterior is the dark colored woodwork.  It could be a house anywhere in Kuwait.  The Rejabs and Dr. Geza live upstairs and the museum is in the basement.

The collection is divided into areas for calligraphy, manuscripts, miniatures, ceramics, metalwork, glass, jade, wood, stone carvings, costumes, textiles, jewelry and musical instruments.   The collection boasts 140 Qurans (early, medieval and recent) and the largest collection of antique silver jewelry in the Middle East.  The costume jewelry collection is interesting because it contains tribal jewelry and pieces from various Islamic countries; unlike collections in most galleries around the world.  In addition, the museum also has a total of 17,000 books; 7,000 of which cover Islamic art.

One of the most interesting pieces at the museum is a wood and metal door from the mausoleum of Sultan Barquq, ruler of Egypt and Syria from 1382-1389.  There is an identical door in the Barquq Mosque in Cairo.   In a twist of fate, the door was thought to be a replica and on show on and off for 100 years in the United States.  Mr. Rejab purchased the door from Christie’s International auction house in New York and brought it to Kuwait.  It turned out to be the original door; not 100 years old, but 700 years old.  “New York’s loss is Kuwait’s gain,” as Dr. Geza says.

Everything happens for a reason and there is a time for everything; therefore giving me an explanation of why I have never visited the Tareq Rejab Museum in Jabriya before this month.  Had I visited sooner, I may have missed the opportunity to be personally guided through the collection by the museum’s curator, Dr. Geza Fehervari.

Dr. Geza as he is referred to around the museum, has been working as Curator for the past fifteen years.  He is in his 70’s, but one would never know it by the way he enthusiastically flies throughout the corridors and up and down the stairs, as if in a dance around treasured objects.  His bright blue eyes sparkle as he talks about a profession he obviously loves and takes great pride in.  Before taking over as Curator of the Museum, Dr. Geza was Professor Emeritus in Islamic Art and Archaeology at the University of London and is the former Hungarian Ambassador to Kuwait

Dr. Geza met Tareq Rejab in London and was offered a position as curator. Before he could take the job, Dr. Geza was offered ambassadorship in Kuwait, so the museum waited for him until he could join.  He has since “retired” and spends approximately 3 months a year in Kuwait working for the museum.  The rest of the year is spent between exhibits in other countries and in his home in Hungary with his wife of approximately 50 years (a marriage which extends a span of time as long as Mr. and Mrs. Rejab’s).

Ali Jazi is another notable member of the extended Rejab family. He describes his job title as, “Buyer and Whatever They Need Me to Do".   "I am not an achedemic like Dr. Geza.  I worked for a famous antiques dealer in London.  Mr. Rejab used to buy from him.  He had only one good customer and that was Mr. Rejab.”  Mr. Rejab would often call Ali for particular types of pieces and after many years, it was Mr. Rejab who prompted Ali to work directly for him.  “Mr. Rejab asked me many times to come to Kuwait.  I enjoy my job.  Mr. Rejab is addicted to art.  He can’t stop buying it.  Sometimes he tells me to buy things and I don’t know why until later.” Of his friends, Ali says, “Geza and I have been working together for more than 10 years.  He is more than a friend.  He is also my teacher.  I am Iranian, but Geza knows more about Iran than I do.  I am so lucky and honored to be here and also to be working with Tareq.  Many scholars wish for the opportunity to spend time with Mr. Rejab and I am with him all the time; swimming and eating.   This is a great opportunity for me.”  (The residence where Ali lives, Dar Al Cid has an enormous and sparklingly-clean pool.  Museum and NES employees frequently spend time at the pool or share meals with Mr. Rejab.)

Mr. Tareq Rejab and Mrs. Jehan Rejab are the most famous of the museum’s personalities.  Tareq Rejab was the first Kuwaiti to be sent abroad to study art and archeology.  Mrs. Rejab had always been interested in art and foreign cultures, growing up in Scotland.   They met at the University of Bristol in the UK, realized that they had the same interests in archaeology and culture, fell in love and got married.  “They compliment each other,” as Ali and Dr. Geza explain.  They started collecting art far before the formation of the museum in 1980.  At the age of 14, Mr. Rejab went to Baghdad and purchased his first manuscript; starting a collection which has now spanned a lifetime; weaving a tapestry with other people’s lives.
Mr. and Mrs. Rejab opened the New English School in 1969 (his grandfather built first public school in Kuwait in1904), which is within close proximity to the museum. Another property within walking distance of the museum is Dar Al Cid. 
Opened in 2000, it is a residential complex which also houses two galleries on the lower level where exhibitions are often held.  Dar Al Cid is like a museum unto itself: it is extraordinary in its architecture and design; Ali received calls years ago from Mr. Rejab, asking him to buy any pieces of antique stained glass that he could find (before the prices increased dramatically).  Ali didn’t understand why, but realized what had happened when Dar Al Cid started to take shape:  Mr. Rejab asked the builders to create windows around the various-sized stained glass pieces that Ali had purchased for him years before. As Dr. Geza says, “That man is a genius.  He designed the museum, the New English School, and Dar Al Cid; down to the tiles and the fixtures.”  

Everywhere your eye turns in Dar Al Cid is met with art:  mosaic tiles, wood carvings and carpentry, stained glass, arches – and of course the collection of art that is either hung on the walls placed to catch the eye. 
The property is extremely well-kept; not a spot of dust in any corner and everything shiny and clean; another indication that the cleaning staff is more like family than paid employees.   The style of the complex is similar to an old Arabic house with rooms around a central courtyard (in this case, the courtyard holds a large swimming pool) and there is a garden with fountain in the rear of the building; wonderful for relaxing evenings.  Mr. Rejab is selective about who occupies the building; most residents are either employees of the museum or the New English School.

Mr. Rejab seems to breathe artwork; it is infused into his body and soul.  Several years ago, Mr. Rejab was very ill and was in a hospital in the UK.  He was diagnosed with blood poisoning and wasn’t doing very well.  Providence again intervened when a buyer literally walked into the hospital with an extremely rare piece of artwork; an Islamic bronze incense burner from late 10th or early 11th AD (pictured on their website).  As Ali explained, “He got energy and he immediately got well.  His body fought.”

The Rejabs’ energy isn’t limited to collecting and sharing art through the museum.  The museum will soon release a book about the door from the mausoleum of Sultan Barquq and it’s mysterious past.  Mr. and Mrs. Rejab have both published quite a few books over the years; many can be found in local book stores. 

The museum also holds exhibitions; both in Kuwait and abroad.  Many of the museums’ pieces are lent out to foreign museums; most recently in Singapore.  The museums news for exhibits, publications and other information can be found on their website.

The Tareq Rejab Museum does not receive grants from the government and must rely on Mr. and Mrs. Rejab’s limited funding alone.  “When the Kuwait National Museum of Art is re-opened (anticipated in 2007), we hope that they will have a section for the Rejab Museum.  It is not certain.”  

It is a shame because the collection is truly amazing and should be shared with a broader audience in a much larger, brighter area.  There are so many objects, that there is not enough room to house them all.  Art is stored at several locations, in basements and even on rooftops; art that should be revered by the local community.

As Dr. Geza explains, “Most of our visitors are foreign.  We also offer tours to school children, but the majority of local schools who show interest are Western, not Kuwaiti.  It is a shame.”  

Unfortunately, most charitable Kuwaiti philanthropists have chosen other ways to donate their funds and often build mosques throughout the country.  When Islam was first introduced, the Prophet promoted the building of mosques and the methodology was that if you build a mosque, God will build you a house in Heaven. 

Currently, the Kuwaiti Government donates land and construction is discounted to those who build mosques.  It is evident throughout Kuwait that many wealthy individuals have gone to great lengths to create mosques; sometimes situated very closely together (generating a question of how many worshipers there can possibly be); and are often architectural wonders.  Unfortunately, the same is not being done for museums or historical sites; much of the country’s historical and Islamic heritage has been neglected.

Part of the museum’s funding problem may be that Mr. Rejab is a humble man.  As Ali explained, “We have a bulletin board in the kitchen.  Every day I see invitations there from dignitaries, sheikhs and famous people inviting Mr. Rejab. He seldom goes.” Instead, Mr. Rejab prefers to spend time with a close-knit group of friends and family members.  “Several days ago, I saw him eating with the workers.  Every day he sits with them and they tell him their problems and he listens.”  

Occasionally within close-knit families, members seem to be able to read each others’ minds:  Ali and Geza are convinced that Mr. Rejab can read their minds.  He anticipates what they will say before the words have left their mouths because he knows them well. “That man is a genius.  He reads my mind. I say, ‘How do you know?’ He says, ‘Because I know you.”  The extended Rejab family meets on Fridays for dinner and Geza and Ali have breakfast with Mr. Rejab every morning. 

Dr. Geza’s only regret is that he has not had more time with the Rejabs, “What a shame we hadn’t met before.  If I met them sooner, we could have achieved more.”  As Ali says with a smile, “We are all still young and we have a long way to go.”

The Tareq Rejab Museum The Museum is open to the public from: 09:00 - 12:00 noon and 16:00 - 19:00. On Fridays open only in the morning from: 09:00 - 12:00 noon.  During Ramadan, the museum is open from 09:00 - 12:00 noon  and 18:00 - 21:00 Fridays the usual time. Their phone number is 2533-9063. Website:


ziadr said...

A very nice write up. Thank you.

Ziad Rajab

ziadr said...

A very nice write up. Thank you.
Ziad Rajab

Desert Girl said...

You are very welcome, Ziad. While I have never met you personally, I have heard very nice things about you over the years. My prayers are with you and your family.