Creative Responses

These are a selection of creative responses to the photographs and text found within the Gertrude Bell Archives housed with Newcastle University.

These creations were produced during the project workshops, face to face and virtual, as well as through open submission through the website here.

This material will be used for our research project Beyond Destruction and will be made available online via the project website. Contributors can give their consent to be identified as the author or may prefer to remain anonymous. Copyright of any material submitted will be retained by the author unless they wish to remain anonymous. Any material submitted will be used for our research and if contributors are willing may be displayed by the project and made available on the project website. We plan that the website will be archived online digitally as a record of the project in the future.

Album J 1909 – Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq
Date taken: February 1909 Photographer: Gertrude Bell
Location: Tell Ahmar – Syria
Modern location: Tall al Ahmar
Size: 11.7/9.6
Condition: Good
Subject date:
Description: Tell Ahmar Assyrian stele [Fragment of stone with carving]

The Lines That Divide

In a secret location there was a map of the Ottoman Empire.

Sir Mark Sykes the British envoy,
Francois Georges Picot the French counterpart discussed what to do with the Ottoman Empire.
Sykes and Picot would draw lines that would define a people,
The entire Middle East, without consideration of its history,
Religious beliefs,
Or its people.
Old promises with other countries were broken.
They decided France would have Syria, the Syrian coast and modern day Lebanon.
The British would take control of Southern Mesopotamia around modern day Baghdad and the Basra provinces.
The Russians got nothing and would forever be wary of western deals.
It’s funny. The reason we know about the Sykes/Picot agreement is because of Russia.
After the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917, the communists found a copy of the agreement and leaked it to the world.
At the same time the British with the help of T.E, Lawrence created the Machahon agreement of 1915. The agreement was  the Arab leaders in the area would fight for the British in return they would get areas of land that would become Syria, Mosul, Iraq and Jordan.
The Arabs eventually got the land they were promised, First the chiefs would be under supervision from the French. Later they would fight for independence.
I wonder about these lines in the sand that Sykes/Picot drew.
Did they know how many people’s lives would be destroyed?
How the people would be displaced for generations to come?
How the world even to this day would be dealing with issues within the region for the next 100 years and possibly beyond?

Morgan Archer


Album J 1909 – Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq
Date taken: February 1909
Photographer: Gertrude Bell
Location: Tell Ahmar – Syria
Modern location: Tall al Ahmar
Size: 11.2/8.6
Condition: Good
Subject date:
Description: Tell Ahmar [Stone Assyrian lion]

Gertrude Bell


H-i.S: You are known to the sand. You know these grains have memory, the wind has will: no page could stall the whim of Allah.

G.B: Hide fences are covered similarly with those same grains of sand.

H-i.S: That fence is myth. Talk.

G.B: There was no blood shed in building your kingdom.

H-i.S: By whose account? The hide did not make itself. You are learned.

G.B: I would see myself a scholar, certainly.

H-i.S: A collector.

G.B: Not at all.

H-i.S: Take trinkets, as you would do naturally. I am along stranger roads than these to care for map-lines. Know this. Your actions, will have payment.

G.B: Dinars.


Make ‘em love what undermines their argument for exclusivity, and you’ll be eternally relevant. Both corners of the debate can wrestle for your immaterial approval from the ether. There’s no difference, whether galleries, factories or territories.

Ironmaster’s House shits a Cancer.
Gnat’s doubled over, constipated with punch-lines.
Home’s a dream hid in the covers of a photo album owned by a total stranger.

Man in a full suit made of white paper picks at the red stain left on his lapel.
Underfoot mycelium inoculates itself to history’s coarse wisp sentiments.

Henri Wallpaper wouldn’t have had a snowball’s chance without the Trojan to take his abortions and give them pride of place. Pablo Mask gave her the famous image to project herself at when the operation gone wrong. Use what’s worked before.
No new thing under the sun, writes the witch-hunting Monarchy.
Letter ended with ever-affectionate daughter, draws reference to three life-times. More than that, whether knowing or not.
Many more.
She’s a crater on Titania’s back; tortured a girl to death in a cellar, making children take part in the festivities. She played trombone on a riverboat, invented Lovecraft’s play-pen. She wrote radio after the sugar factory burned down. Carroll invites her to an acrostic tragedy, as Holiday believed it to be. No one’s sure if it is, or not.

Matronymic mycelia cultivates in the experiential soil of time. The Carpenter chucks up oyster on the streets of the Old Market: the Hare weeps alone at home.

Heads in sacks. Women burn alive in cages. Mothers cry at children made into shrapnel-ribboning. Cratered schools haunt the dreams of souring hearted boys, turn to men of ice and oil. Televisions update pot-bellied Walrus. Too much choice with tunnel vision. To late.
[The self, does not exist.] Strike back. We must protect our interests.
[Labels, do not exist.] There must be stability.
[Do well by one another.] One which is in accordance with our interests.
[You will never be left behind.] Strike while the iron is hot. Protect our interests.
[The dog will always survive to the end of the movie.]There must be stability.
We teach good, white children these lessons. These lessons are stolen from nations we bomb toward Disneyland Democracies. Princess Jasmine has a nice, white voice and manner. She is kept dark enough in the scribbles to eschew the old race card they’ve been known to pull at any given opportunity.

Epcot will never be completed but will always be introducing and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems.

Honey, I Kill the Kids.

Scheherazade bore three sons to the city-server, in bad faith.


We won
the day


in that middle distance
edged corner of the eye
beyond the lacking dilated





Stephen Mack


Date taken: February 1909
Photographer: Gertrude Bell
Location: Aleppo – Syria
Modern location: Halab (Aleppo)
Size: 11/8.3
Condition: Good
Subject date:
Description: Basalt bas relief with Assyrian inscription, Kostaki Homsi [Bas relief of human figures from the collection of Kostaki Homsi]
Lenses and Filters

When I think of Syria I think of
Bombs falling,
Headlines and news reports,
Boats packed tightly with people arriving on foreign shores if they arrive at all…
That photo of the child staring blankly out from the back of an ambulance
And of course the little boy in the red t-shirt and blue shorts washed up on the beach.
“His name is Aylan.”
It is a place of unrest and danger,
Not a place for a White Western woman
To walk alone,
Admiring the scenery,
Taking photographs of houses whose stones are inscribed with the names of the owner.
Faces carved into permanent existence forever proclaiming,
“This land is mine.”
Syria has never been to me a bas relief
Of a powerful man telling stories to those who kneel at his feet.
He does not read from a scroll or parchment.
Words passed down through the ages
Are burnt into his mind, into his heart.
All he is – Is memory.
Over a 100 years ago a Western woman walked the streets of Aleppo,
Camera in hand,
She learnt their languages
Capturing not images of war but civilization.

Naomi Sumner Chan


Album M 1909 – Iraq, Turkey
Date taken: May 1909
Photographer: Gertrude Bell
Location: Ba’adri – Iraq
Modern location:
Size: 12/10
Condition: Good
Subject date:
Description: Ali Beg [‘AlŒ Beg (seated) – High Priest of the Yezidis, the kawwƒl stands to the right of him. The figure on the left is the Christian secretary, Fattuh stands directly behind ‘AlŒ Beg]
 We Host Our Guests Like Family

Ali: . Aha Peace upon you Saleem!

Saleem: Peace to you too Ali –
Ali: Happy to see the rumours are indeed slander!

Saleem: It’s good to see you too(!) what have you heard?

Ali: Indeed, it was said you were losing weight and yet… is this Indian cloth?

Saleem: Yes, with Chinese silk.

Ali: Exquisite, it seems as if your dividends keep paying.

Saleem: Indeed in abundance, and you, you too are looking strong.

Ali: Thank you. Tell me Saleem, do you agree with this, this image making and capturing?

Saleem: It’s a common practise, especially for the Whites, it doesn’t harm you.

Ali: Not yet I suppose, I have heard the Whites are visiting you again?

Saleem: Indeed – they are inquisitive about our faiths and our ways.

Ali: There’s is a different…

Saleem: Our God is the same.

Ali: That may be, but they have washed and cut the message to their own measure, these…

Saleem: You’re still angry, you mustn’t let it seep into you, anyhow they intrigue me…

Ali: And their gold?

Saleem: They have a little and yes, it adds a little to my intrigue of them.

Ali: I see they don’t walk with you though.

Saleem: No,..

Ali: They are busy watching you…

Saleem: No fear, I have plenty to show and nothing to hide.

Ali: Respectfully, they are not interested in you – but with what you have.

Saleem: Haha, what do I have! faith and stories, let them listen and they can learn too!

Ali: They are like a bastard child who returns to claim his fathers throne…

Saleem: Contain yourself, you are still blinded with rage,

Ali: Rightly so Saleem, despite their smiles and decorum They are distant from you, somewhat…

Saleem: Uptight, I know, I watch them too.

Ali: They are always writing and photographing, collecting, do you remember the…

Saleem: Not here Ali, nor do we have the time, the others are arriving soon.

Ali: Well remember you have land, wealth, and have loyal followers,

Saleem: That gives us strength.

Ali: It also makes you a threat. Their stubbornness to return again and again – I find it disturbing.

Saleem: Do you think they will war with us?

Ali: Worse.

Saleem: What could be worse than that?

Ali: They will divide us, a snake has only to spit its venom to take effect, take our land, impose their rule.

Saleem: And replace me? – I have heard of worst ideas!

Ali: Not so much as you, but with whom

Saleem: Unless we are united, of course

Ali: All tribes,

Saleem: heal the differences of the tribes, one people, one land.

Ali: Gilt it if you must, bring us together.

Saleem: We haven’t enough…

Ali: Enough to start? We do remember the gazelle can outwit the cheetah, but it’s too late under the butchers machete.

Saleem: Haha, your riddles and metaphors Ali,

Ali: We need to come together before they start to cleave us apart. They are already poisoning the Arabs against the Turks.

Saleem: So we unify and finally in Iraq peace will prevail…

Ali: Then you can enjoy your Indian cloths, Chinese silks and Roman gold.

Saleem: To a prosperous peace,

Ali: Yes, now sit Saleem.

Saleem: No, you…

Ali: I insist,

Saleem: Please, I insist more Ali!

Ali: Enough of this, smile and don’t cross your leg!

Saleem: It looks regal,

Ali: Inbred you mean, undo your leg.

Saleem: You will see.

Ali: I hope not to.

Saleem: Smile Ali, this is for our new future.

Wajid Hussain


J_156 Album J 1909 – Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq Date taken: February 1909 Photographer: Gertrude Bell Location: Near Munbaya – Syria Modern location: Size: 10/12 Condition: Good Subject date: Description: A wife of Ahmed Bursan [Woman and two children] Use this link below to see the large image please ( Look on the page for J_156)
It is hot and dry.
Sand coats the roof
of my mouth.
I feel the grains
between my teeth.
I would spit them out
if I could.
I have to remain still
and silent.
Always silent.
These white men
are only interested
in these grains of sand.
What lies beneath them,
what lies between them.
What about the people
who walk up them?

P. A. Mann