Oriental Institute looks to expand ties to Hyde Park, greater Chicago community

The Nile restaurant, a staple of Hyde Park’s 55th Street for more than two decades, is getting help from the University of Chicago Oriental Institute in giving its new location an authentic Middle Eastern look.

Fresh off a move that brought the restaurant closer to campus, the restaurant is adding photographic prints from the Oriental Institute archives to decorate its new interior. The images, which include pictures of serene landscapes and archaeological digging sites, were taken from the Oriental Institute’s rich archive of photographs from years of expeditions to Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East.

Jack Green, the chief curator of the Oriental Institute Museum, pulled a variety of images from archives of some of the institute’s most famous endeavors, including the Breasted and Khorsabad expeditions of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

“This project was a great way of bringing attention to part of our collections that the public doesn’t know about,” Green said.

The Oriental Institute launched the collaboration as part of a recent effort to become more visible in the Hyde Park and larger Chicago communities.

“We’ve really been trying to up the game in terms of marketing and reaching out into the community,” Green said. He is aware that Chicago is home to a large middle-eastern population, and that many of these citizens are first, second, or third-generation immigrants who have not heard of the world-class museum.

In the past, the Oriental Institute has provided tours and lectures to certain community groups. Green said the institute plans to develop more programs in community centers throughout the Chicago area.

The institute’s newest exhibition, titled “Our Work: Modern Jobs – Ancient Origins,” exemplifies the institute’s outreach efforts. Opening on Tuesday, Aug. 20, the exhibition will feature photographs of various Chicago citizens paired with an ancient artifact that is linked with the ancient version of their profession. Green said that the project was a great way to interact with a diverse set of Chicagoans who might not come into contact with the Oriental Institute otherwise.

After 22 years at a location further east, The Nile moved to a new spot on 55th Street near the UChicago campus between University and Woodlawn avenues. The move was a big change, but the new site boasts a larger space, vibrant green and yellow walls, and a terrace with outdoor seating.

The pictures from the Oriental Institute are all black and white, contrasting nicely with the bright new interior. The Nile owner Rashad Moughrabi explained that he was looking for artwork that would provide this historical contrast and also represent the landscape of the entire Middle East.

“We asked for images from as many middle-eastern countries as they could give,” he said. “The restaurant is streamlined and modern in its design, so we were looking for art that was a little older to give a more well-rounded impression. The Oriental Institute was very helpful and gave us exactly what we were looking for.”

Moughrabi plans to adorn all of the restaurant’s walls with the Oriental Institute’s images. “The goal is to have all of our artwork from the Oriental Institute,” he said. Based on the remarkably positive response he has received from some customers, Moughrabi sees potential for the display at The Nile to complement the museum’s exhibitions.  After all, Moughrabi said, many people come to the restaurant before or after a visit to the Oriental Institute Museum.

“This was a great opportunity to highlight both places,” he said, and the donated photographs expand on the tradition of The Nile and the Oriental Institute working together. “We’ve always catered for events at the Oriental Institute,” he said. “Additionally, this year we provided the food for the annual finals week study break event that the museum holds.

“It’s a great story to tell people when they come in and ask about it,” Moughrabi said about the images. The Nile is also in the process of making a placard for one of the walls to commemorate the gesture, which will explain where the photographs are from and signal the project’s meaning to both places.