‘Beirut II’ Reveals the Unseen Beirut!

Details of our lives we don’t usually pay attention to it, an everyday scene happening in front of us and we are too busy to notice it. It could be the shape of the moon, the grocery shop nextdoor, the side chats, the man who works in the bakery, the child passing near our cars, the tree you see when you open the window … Or maybe memories & emotions kept inside and you forgot about them, yet something suddenly happens and triggers the forgotten box of feelings, thoughts, memories. When that happens, you find yourself paying attentions to details, events and people surrounding you and the discoverings will fascinate you.

Beirut, a city that fascinated 13 lebanese artists with its details, events and people. They captured their discoverings in photographs, installations and video art and presented it in group exhibition (Beirut II) which was exhibited last summer at Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna – Austria. Today, Contemporary Art Platform brought (Beirut II) to Kuwait, a show that will take you to the unseen Beirut and a journey to various artists minds!

The Lebanese capital, which is often described as “the Paris of the Middle East,” is a city characterized by repeated destruction, restructuring, and reconstruction in social, economic, and historical terms and evincing a complex dynamic that may definitely be regarded as unique. The city’s special charm and its unmistakable appeal are fueled by the diversity of its population, which comprises almost twenty different religious and ethnic groups. Feudal thinking, hierarchies, and overlapping affiliations to various social groups and diverse family clans are of great importance in Lebanon: they determine the country’s socioeconomic stratification and social interactions.

These influences also come to bear on the protagonists of cultural life who find their source of inspiration in this complexity and embark on critical reflections on this fragile balance of powers. Rania Stephan provides an example for this: marginalized urbanites are given a chance to speak their mind and questioned about their living conditions and dreams in her documentary-like video works.

Within this complex social mosaic, many Lebanese artists and intellectuals are, after countless conflicts, still committed to a sociocritical concept of art today; this understanding is bound to a milieu of tolerance and exchange and, stylistically speaking, enters a symbiosis with the narrative tradition, that brings back memories of the city’s prewar grandeur. As the video installation Réminiscences Beyrouthines directed by Bariaa Mourad, showing textual memory fragments by Najla Said, daughter of renowned cultural theorist Edward, in an ambivalent and polysemic atmosphere together with Tanya Traboulsi’s oneiric video-photography and a sound design by Edwin Daou. A work that evokes the memories of civil war and emigration so typical for the generation of Lebanese born between the 50s and 70s. Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige asked former political prisoners how it was possible to survive through vernacular art, in an environment of sheer injustice and human-rights-defying extreme situations – as described in their documentary film Khiam.

Randa Mirza “Pigeon’s Rock” 2003

Besides exploring various social conflicts, the shown works deal with both the facets of the artists’ identities and the identity of a nation devastated by war constituting itself in a permanent dance on a volcano, epitomized in the virility of cliff divers jumping off Pigeons Rock in Randa Mirza’s photographies. The civil war from 1975 to 1990 and numerous armed conflicts have not only left deep traces on the cityscape, but also on Beirut’s inhabitants as Alfred Tarazi’s memorial paintings show. Conversations de Salon a feature realized by Daniele Arbid shows four nicely dressed ladies in an upper middle class living room who talk about fearful war sufferings and several other subjects in a strange tea party atmosphere, with a nonchalant casualness one could also talk about the weather. Lamia Joreige’s Full Moon summarizes a poetic quest for the almost too perfect beauty of the Beirut nights, where in every “day & night” environments doubtful and threatening events may occur at any moment …

Alfred Tarazi “Mazzacurati Says…” Meduim: Mixed media on paper.

Music has always been an important part of Lebanese culture reflected in Beirut’s music mix of traditional sounds and brazilian inspired jazz epitomized in the music of Fairuz and the Rahbani’s. In the last two decades, an internationally acclaimed experimental sound and music scene has developed in the city of Beirut mainly through the impetus of the Irtijal festival initiated by artists Mazen Kerbaj, Raed Yassin and Sharif Sehnaoui who are also present in the show with a sound-installation.

Further selected video and film works by artists Ali Cherri, Maher Abi Samra, Reine Mitri, or Rami El-Sabbagh give evidence of the struggles that are constantly flaring up and thematize the fears of the next detonating bombs, individual psychological conditions, coping mechanisms as well as the involved dominant powers’ geopolitical interests.

The powerful group show, (Beirut II), will be exhibited in Contemporary Art Platform – Kuwait until July 18th.


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