Thursday, July 1, 2010

Zena el Khalil glitters at Espace Kettaneh Kunigk

Zena el Khalil’s new solo show at Espace Kettaneh Kunigk which opened on Wednesday 30th of June and runs till mid August sees her on a return to her familiar landmarks – even the invitation card was customized by some girly stickers on the back of it – and the works themselves remind me fiercely of our Sri Lankese concierge’s pad: A cross between fake flowers, lots of feathers, sparkling gold vases, and deities galore. Nevermind that in Zena’s case the deities are more human and that the feather is pink and there are toys everywhere (our concierge has none I must point out).

Zena is still trying, like the rest of us, to grapple with those deep scars – for some they are still not scars but rather open wounds – that were left after the July 2006 war. The clues are everywhere in the works: Kalashnikovs, planes, pistols, etc…. And all the large works of the exhibition are actually based on a pamphlet that Zena found in the parking lot of the Universite St. Joseph (which was thrown from passing planes) and it shows Bashar el Assad (the Syrian president), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (the Iranian leader), and Khaled Mechal (the head of Hamas) playing their flutes (Indian style) and Hassan Nasrallah (the leader of the Hizbullah) coming out of his urn saying “anything I can do for you?”

Except that in the paintings the situation becomes more peaceful, even anecdotal, with many male bodybuilders/strippers filling the space wearing Palestinian kaffiyahs – Zena’s own way of pointing out at the incomprehensible situation in Palestine these days – and the whole thing is dipped in the kitschiest sauce ever invented. Among the paraphernalia that adorned the works, I recognized many of those elements that wrap wedding souvenirs, christening and birth tokens, small doves that normally are found on chocolates distributed on occasions and so on and so forth.

The titles of the works are parts of lyrics of some known songs such as Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the wind or John Lennon’s Imagine. According to Zena who gave a special talk to Beirut/NTSC, “I decided that instead of the words that Hassan Nasrallah was saying in the pamphlet, I would just put an empty bubble and call the painting by the song that inspired it.” As for the title of the whole show “ou Ali mama3o khabar” (or “And Ali doesn’t even know about it”) Zena deflects the question. Pressing the matter and trying to find a link between the political undertones of the works and the Shiite religion, Zena once more declines to answer politely.

However, I still feel that Zena’s strength lies in the smaller format works which again see her embroidering, knitting, creating montages and small appliqué shapes – but in those smaller works she is able to dominate the surface with more mastery than in the bigger ones. Still, the whole visual effect is like a Barbie inside an Al Qaida training camp – lots of pink violence and cotton candy warfare. Good luck for Zena growing some thick scar tissue to recover.
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