Lamia Sassine

Lamia is a researcher and curator with experience working with a wide range of museums and collections. She has produced research and interpretation for digital as well as physical exhibitions and projects, and is committed to working at the crossroads of academia, collections, and audiences. She’s interested in the relationships between museums and people, and curious about the cultural agency of objects.
She completed a Ph.D. investigating perceptions of Phoenician museum collections at the University of Sheffield (2021), an MA (Merit) in artefact studies at University College London (2014) and a BA (Distinction) in archaeology at the American University of Beirut (2013). She has worked on cataloguing and exhibition projects at the national museum of Beirut as well as in the contemporary art sector in Lebanon. Since finishing her PhD, she has pursued her interest in the digital humanities through virtual exhibitions and digital curation projects in Manchester and Sheffield. She also continues to undertake research and curatorial projects in the arts and heritage sector in the UK and the SWANA region. Working on the Repatriates project gives her the opportunity to bring together work done with diverse communities and explore more inclusive ways to address repatriation in different contexts.

How would you define repatriation?
I would say repatriation is the return of artefacts and assemblages to their rightful owners. The etymology of the word implies notions of nationalism and the state, but to me, repatriation is about the people and communities for whom these objects have meaning. From my perspective coming from Lebanon, repatriation often means retrieving archaeological material that was stolen during the civil war. It’s a way to reclaim recent history while preserving cultural heritage.

What does your work involve?
As the expert in Digital Humanities, I’m in charge of the communication for the project. Because repatriation is such a shifting concept, I need to consider how to approach it and talk about it within the context of the project. I think about ways to structure and present the work that the Repatriates collective is doing in a way that reaches its audiences, both public and academic, artistic and political, and amplifies its meaning to all these stakeholders.

How does the project tie in to your background?
I’m an archaeologist by training, but I think of myself more as a museum archaeologist. I’ve worked with many collections, and even seen objects be repatriated by mistake! Working with 20 Mediterranean museums for my PhD, I was right on the line of the global North/South divide, and saw different parts of the same objects in museums of different countries. This also highlighted a very nuanced picture in this part of the world, and it got me thinking about where collections that predate modern nation-states belong. For me this project is a platform to learn and explore different perspectives.