An encouraging paradox of our post-pandemic times is despite the relentless forward momentum of our lives, as a society, we’ve discovered a renewed appreciation of the past – not as misty-eyed nostalgia but as an invaluable roadmap for our future generations.

Yet even the past is subjective, with historians’ biases and interpretations resulting in differing views of what we were taught to believe to be true. Inquisitive minds are now questioning our most revered and respected institutions and looking beyond what’s always been presented as facts about countries who may have lacked the rights, resources and reach to tell their own stories, leading to the democratisation of history – a movement to revise the content and context of events led by the communities themselves rather than presenting a view of events from a western perspective.

The Middle East is leading this new enlightenment. “NYU Abu Dhabi has rethought the mapping of the world, declares Maya Allison, founding Executive Director of the Art Gallery at NYU Abu Dhabi. “So the history department isn’t organised around continents, it’s organised around ocean systems. If you think of the Atlantic, suddenly you are looking at the history of trade, including the slave trade, migration from Europe and the UK, and also the founding – or the colonising – of the Americas. So it changes how you think about something you think you already know. They are really trying to rethink a university curriculum, decentred from the west basically, which is incredibly important, I think.”

The fight back has begun. Internationally, the decolonisation of museums is picking up pace with The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles surrendering a group of Greek terracotta sculptures known as Orpheus and the Sirens, estimated to date from the fourth century B.C. believed to have been illegally excavated and taken out of Italy, and London’s Horniman Museum and Gardens returning 72 artefacts including several sculptures known as Benin bronzes to the Nigerian government that were acquired by force during a British military invasion in 1897. “Decolonisation is not simply the relocation of a statue or an object; it is a long-term process that seeks to recognise the integral role of empire in museums – from their creation to the present day,” explains the Museums Association. “Decolonisation requires a reappraisal of our institutions and their history and an effort to address colonial structures and approaches to all areas of museum work.”

Again, the region is way ahead of its global peers in putting this into practice. “Louvre Abu Dhabi is also trying to rethink how you present an exhibition narrative, so it is semi-chronological but by form and by function rather than by region,” reveals Maya Allison. Now we have a chance to rethink the blueprint of what we do and, in a way, make right the wrongs of the past – or at least working towards setting it back on balance a little bit more. That is the opportunity here that really has drawn some of the greatest minds, in my opinion, to work on these questions.

Thus as history has taught us, taking control of the archives means taking control of the narrative, something that luxury brands are coming to realise. “Putting a stronger emphasis on the archive means learning about who we are,” observes Bulgari’s Brand and Heritage Curator Lucia Boscaini. The work began by prising open boxes and rereading dusty magazine interviews. “We found treasures that were in our basement and nobody knew were there!” she admits.

As the former Senior Director of Global Brand Marketing at Bulgari, Lucia’s created a communication strategy that includes exhibitions, books and artist collaborations. She reflects, “Heritage for us is not just paying tribute to the past, but rather a way to let everyone understand what Bulgari stands for – the identity of this brand, beyond the latest launch, the latest event, the latest beautiful store that is opening, because everything is consistently bound to this identity. That’s the mission, and that’s definitely something that I’m very privileged to be part of.”

Lucia has acknowledged a truth most editors know all too well. As chroniclers of the zeitgeist, it’s an extraordinary honour to inform, inspire, challenge, push boundaries, and help shape our world views. Yet it’s also important to place value on our own contribution, so for the 85th anniversary of the birth of our founding Italian edition, in 2023 – in the role of International Heritage Director – I’ll be exploring the archives in Milan to discover the origins of the GRAZIA legacy to help blaze our trail into the future.

Because as the past has shown all too often, if you don’t share your stories, somebody else will. Your next chapter starts here…


This Editor’s Letter is published in the fourth edition of GRAZIA Middle East. Click here to discover more from ONCE UPON A TIME.