Tuesday, June 21, 2011

No truce in Beirut, only virgins - art installation

Bill Farrell, the Middle East correspondent of the New York Times once said “There is no truth in Beirut, only versions” as the country stands as divided as ever on key issues and as the “war” in its metaphoric sense has never ended, everyone is looking for a respite – for a truce. However, no matter how damaging political acts are on all sides of the spectrum, everyone rushes to dip them into a patriotic sauce claiming innocence, good intentions, and “virginity” from all error.

This art installation will be composed of several set of diptychs:

1a) A Paul Smith diary filled from start to finish with the words “Art is useless, resistance is futile”

1b) Another Paul Smith diary filled from start to finish with the words “la jadwa min al fan wal moukawama a’abathiyya” (The Arabic transposition of the above-mentioned English sentence)

2a) An old photo of Georgina Rizk (Taken by Studio Nicolas), the Lebanese beauty queen crowned Miss Universe in 1971 – few people know that she was married to Ali Hassan Salameh, one of Yasser Arafat’s top lieutenants and upon his assassination she vowed “to continue the struggle.”

2b) A photo of the flowers on the grave of Audette Salem, mother of Richard and Christine, who were abducted during the war and are 2 of the 17,000 missing people whose whereabouts are unknown. For a very long time she was a key driver in keeping the issue of the missing people alive.

3a) A photo of the Khaled Alwan plaque near the now Vero Moda shop in Hamra (Formerly Wimpy restaurant) who killed an Israeli officer who was sitting there shortly after the Israeli invasion in 1982 in one of the rare acts of individual resistance in the city.

3b) A photo of Lt. Colonel Mansour Diab, the Lebanese Army officer who confessed to working with the Israeli intelligence and who was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor. The photo is a personal photo I have of him who was my own trainer as an officer during the military service.

4a) An old photo (Taken by Studio Nicolas) of Hafez el Assad, late Syrian President.

4b) A notice bearing I(Heart) – the classic I(Heart) NY sign typography – but with NY replaced by 452. Read in its entirety the statement becomes I(heart)452 or 10452 the area of Lebanon in square Kilometers.

5a) A book dating back to 1979 which details the exploits of the Lebanese Forces during the 100-day war in Achrafieh against the Syrians in 1978 (June – October).

5b) A book dating back to October 2006 which details the exploits of the Hizbullah as it fought the Israelis during the July-August 2006 war.

6a) An old Medieval image depicting the conquest of Jerusalem by the crusaders – highlighting the internal fraction of the Lebanese population that still believes that external forces are capable of defending Lebanon and bringing peace to the Middle East.

6b) A mural found in the Southern suburb of Beirut which depicts Hizbullah fighters on their way to Jerusalem with the word “Kadimoun” on it (We are coming) signifying that Jerusalem can only be liberated by Arab – perhaps even Lebanese - fighters.

7a) A photo of a window shop in Hamra back during the Cedar Revolution in 2005 asking for the “truth”

7b) A copy of Bill Farrell’s statement “There is no truth in Beirut, only versions.”

8a) A statement by Abou Ayyad (top Palestinian officer in Lebanon) which went: “The road to Jerusalem goes through Jounieh” (Which is a seaside city north of Beirut). Whereas the statement was a geographical impossibility, it implied that the Palestinians wanted Lebanon as an alternative country.

8b) A copy of a forwarded joke about Lebanon whereby during Genesis, God was saying he was going to create a great country with great people, and when the angels asked the Lord why he was being so generous with that new nation, he answered: “Wait till you see what kind of neighbors I am going to give them.”

9a) A photo taken from Al Anwar newspaper (Dated 15 January 1984) of Duke Walker, a private in the Marines stationed by the Airport with a mouse held in his mousetrap.

9b) A photo of the memorial dedicated to the slain Marines in Beirut after the suicide attacks on their barracks which lead to the killing of more than 280 of them.

10a) Poster for the first post-war concert by Feyrouz: In a discussion with my 1st year university students about the symbols representing Lebanon, they dismissed the Cedars and the flag but only agreed on Tabboule and on our national diva Feyrouz who throughout the war, refused to do concerts in Lebanon and only gave her first on Martyrs’ square on September 17th, 1994.

10b) Poster of the “National Tabboule day”: an action initiated by artist Ricardo Mbarkho.

11a) The cover of issue number 200 from Al Jaras magazine which headlined the old Al Mutanabi verse of poetry “Only buy the slave (Which doubles in meaning as any person with a dark complexion) with his baton with him, for the slaves are an evil and spiteful breed.” Following the accident whereby a mistreated Ethiopian maid threw her employers’ baby from the balcony before committing suicide.

11b) The photo of a stencil which goes Sri Lankese is different than maid (Since often the Lebanese use the words interchangeably as proven by the absurd words of my student who said “Our Srilankese comes from Ethiopia”).

12a) An ad which appeared in newspapers in 1984 about the Commodore hotel selling off its “London taxis.”

12b) A photo of the new London taxis in Beirut which became all the rage in 2010.

13a) An old postcard of “modern Beirut” with a view on the pool of the St. George Yacht Motor Club, a hotel which severely suffered from litigation with Solidere (the company which rebuilt downtown Beirut and owned by late P.M. Rafic Hariri) which deprived the hotel of its marina. Ironically, the owner of the St. George says that he suffered in Hariri’s death more than in his life because the huge explosion that killed the P.M. happened in front of the hotel.

13b) A small article which appeared in the Al Diyar newspaper about the reenactment of the murder of Hariri in an Army barrack in Bordeaux, France where a full scale model of the St. George was built for the purposes of the exercise.

14a) A pin with the inscription “intifadat al istiklal” (“the uprising of the independence also known as “the cedar revolution”) which I wore in 2005.

14b) Another pin with the inscription “Lebanese opposition” which I also wore in 2005. However, the opposition became the “other camp” and so it is difficult now to know which opposition the pin depicted.

15a) Lebanon is ruled by the equation “al jaysh, al sha3b, wal moukawama” which translates into “the army, the people, and the resistance” (i.e. the Hizbullah) which was adopted as an official idiom of defense of the country and a way to recognize the operations of Hizbullah as being outside the realm of the army, although supposedly in coordination with it. To illustrate this point, the cover of the Mehdi magazine aimed for children which states “in July (2006) my people have prevailed”.

15b) Lebanon is also ruled by another equation, “Sin-Sin” (or S-S) which refers to “Syria-Saudi Arabia” two of the major regional powers with stakes in the land, indicating that Lebanon will forever be at the crossroads of international (and often conflicting) interests specifically that Syria has close ties to Iran and Saudi Arabia is a major ally of the United States. Ashekman, a rap and graffiti crew have designed a t-shirt with the Superman logo in Arabic (namely the letter S), so it will be shown in lieu of the original politically oriented S-S.

16a) Two postcards and a poster from artist Walid Zbib which depicted respectively Beirut’s Hamra street in 1987, the museum area and the seaside corniche in 1990 symbolizing Beirut’s chaos.

16b) The return to the scene of these place and how they looked in 2010.

17a) An article written by Suleiman Frangieh (who later became president of the republic) addressed to the then president mentioning politicians accusing other people of being “cheese eaters” (i.e. corrupt – a term coined by then president Fouad Chehab or “fromagers”) when legal documents indict them in person (i.e. being “cheese eaters” themselves). The found article is undated but could be traced back to circa 1968.

17b) An article written by Khaled Saghieh in Al Akhbar newspaper (published on Sept. 21st 2010) mentioning the same “cheese eaters” indicating however, that those eaters, no matter how corrupt, had at least the interest of preserving the “cheese”.

18a) In order to understand the inner workings of Lebanon, you must:

Get 2 puzzles of the same number of pieces, and edited by the same company Assemble the puzzles independently/Start mixing the pieces from the two puzzles/The end result will be two sets of puzzles, of the same number, whose pieces actually fit – but that do not make sense on the whole (because the pieces come from two different sets)/Extrapolate the above, and apply it to the Lebanese case: Lebanon is a country where all the pieces fall into place, but that don't necessarily make sense once put all together. This rationale has been applied to two puzzles of the map of Lebanon.

18b) The complementary set of pieces of the map crisscrossed from one puzzle to the next.

19a) During a manifestation of Arab nationalists in the 1960s on the Bourj area in Beirut, those at the beginning of it were shouting “Falyaskot wa’ad Belfour” (let the declaration of Lord Belfour be nullified), the same declaration that promised a home for the Jews in Palestine (under the condition that “nothing shall be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”)

19b) The manifestation grew so long that those at the end of it were shouting, instead of “Falyaskot wa’ad Beflour”, “Falyaskot wahad men fowk” (let a head from above topple) a proof if any was needed that the crowds only need a catalyst to join in – no matter what the manifestation is for (or against) and that slogans – through an “Indian telephone” system could be subverted as long as they phonetically rhyme.

20a) In a notorious incident, a commission of the delegates went to Kamel Assaad*’s father who was one of the most influential Shiite feudal lords (or dignitaries to put in mildly) in the South of Lebanon and asked him to build schools for their children, his retort was: “Kamel a’am yeta’alam a’ankon” (Kamel is studying on your behalf!) (*Kamel Assaad became speaker of the house after the parliamentary elections that preceded the war of 1975 and remained until the end of the self-prorogating law which lasted until the first post-war elections which included “nominations” of certain MPs).

20b) A banner for the Mehdi schools (schools backed by the Hizbullah) emphasizing that their students (mostly coming from Shiite underprivileged classes) have scored high on a national level (with one being first in her category in all of Lebanon).

21a) An undated article from Annahar newspaper (most likely going back to 2000) where the Israeli press gives Hassan Nasrallah (leader of the Hizbullah) chances of becoming president of the Lebanese republic now that the Shiite Moslems are going to ask for it (an impossibility since by constitution the president is Maronite Christian).

21b) Based on the idea by Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston following his article “Hassan Nasrallah for Prime Minister of Israel” which appeared in the Israeli press after the 2006 war, this is the photo of an imaginary election campaign for Nasrallah in Israel (overimposed on Benjamin Netenyahu’s own).

22 a) President Obama was notified by the hit team that “Geronimo EKIA” which translates into (Osama ben Laden) “Enemy Killed In Action.” Stickers and t-shirts were sold on the internet to celebrate the event.

22b) Another message “Geronimo IKEA” which translates into “I Kill Every Arab” which roughly translates the mood of the Arab street following the death of Ben Laden and the anti-American sentiment that keeps brewing – in addition it also translates the view that Al Qaeda was also killing Arab civilians in its operations.


Mich said...


Nsrn Srks said...

This is amazing! The contrasts are spot on and real interesting! It must've taken so much research.. where will this installation be?

Tarek Chemaly said...

A part of it (10 diptychs) will be touring Europe (Italy, Slovenia)... But so far there are no fixed locations for the entirety of the project.

Farah said...

Thought provoking compilation. Thank you for showcasing it.

Rana.B* said...

Brilliant !! Thank you for sharing,
Very interesting !!!
Is it coming to Switzerland ?

Tarek Chemaly said...

Switzerland is not included so far in the "tour" - if you have any suggestions, I am all ears.

Rana.B* said...

can i share it with the association amis du liban ? can you also send me an email with some details ?

Tarek Chemaly said...

Sure, feel free to propagate.... As for info, please email me what you wish to know....

Rana.B* said...

ok i will send you an email in a couple days.