Lamia Joreige, or the art of uncovering the roots of “uncertain times” from the past to the present

In Lamia Joreige, everything is born of anxiety. This fear is felt in a pervasive way in the idea of ​​the possible destruction of his city Beirut or even the complete dismemberment of his country Lebanon. A concern that drives him to regularly delve into archival documents to reread the present in light of the past…

In his previous multimedia installation, “Beirut’s Dissection of a City,” this visual artist and videographer—who claims to be “Beirut beyond any other affiliation”—was concerned with the risk of “erasing” the Lebanese capital. In particular, it should be remembered that the famous Beryte “mother of laws” (this ancient city, famous for its prestigious law school occupying the territory of present-day Beirut) had already been in decline for a long time after the devastating tsunami that struck it in 120. 551. Only in the 19th century, after the expansion of the port, was it an erasure, where it regained its status as a crossroads of civilizations…

How did we get here?

This time, in “Uncertain Times”, it is the upheavals of the Country of Cedars and the whole region in general that form the basis of the works in mixed media presented by him until January 28, 2023. The Marfa gallery, as the name suggests, is located in the port of Beirut*.

With this project, which he started in 2017 after the cessation of the Syrian uprising and the division of the region, the artist questions the historical reasons that led Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon to be on such a current path.

“How did history come to this? Where should we look for the causes of this general disorder? How would the region have developed if Emir Faisal had realized his dream of ruling a great Arab nation, had he not been betrayed by the British and fought by the French? Would we be communities and populations living in peace today? Could recent riots, wars and tragedies redefine our region? »

Starting with this question, which Lamia Joreige will share with Etel Adan during their filming conversations between 2013 and 2015, she begins a documentary research that will take it from the Ottoman archives of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In Nantes, France, where all documents relating to the constitution of Greater Lebanon are kept.

A detail of one of the works in the “Uncertain Times” exhibition. DR

Pages of history on picture rails

Such a dive into the region’s history to try to understand the roots of our current woes will inevitably lead the artist-researcher to this crucial period, which stretches from the end of the Ottoman Empire to the beginning of the French and British mandates in Lebanon. Syria and Palestine (1914-1920). This turning point in history, at the same time a moment of rupture, disintegration and creation, will bring some elements of response to it through facts and stories that will draw from it and offer a clear analogy to our present experience. .to his questions.

Returning to the Sykes-Picot agreements, the Balfour declaration, the First World War, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, and the famine in Mount Lebanon, Lamia Joreige will auscultate, clarify and explore these moments in which many factors and actors were involved. united and created a radical geographical, social and political transformation in the Middle East.

There he will discover, among other facts hidden by official history, the role played by Lebanese speculators in the Great Famine, as well as the brutal devaluation of Ottoman money, which parallels the economic and social collapse of our modern era. However, in the diary of 1915-16, questions about the identity of a young Palestinian recruited to fight in the Ottoman army were also mentioned.

He will also note, or rather note, that tendency of our countrymen, as saviours, to welcome ever with joy those who rule over them, in the episodes which narrate the fall of the allies.

An exhibition to look at, read, decipher and meditate on… DR

Speculators and grasshoppers

The exhibition opened with the picture of his great-grandfather, who passed away due to a sudden seizure while watching the arrival of a swarm of locusts in the sky, brings the pages of history together. From official to intimate stories and hidden historical facts that change the atmosphere. the tension and anguish felt by the people of that time.

Excerpts from short stories are interspersed in this key interval of a larger regional history, which the artist transfers onto mixed media plates (mixed media) by combining various elements such as drawings (especially aesthetic locusts), photographs and archival documents. And he often accompanies it with personal commentary, highlighting the visual and textual correspondences between past and present.

“Uncertain Times” looks at the story of Lebanon, plagued by locusts and speculators. DR

And talking to Ethel…

Lamia Joreige’s offering to Marfa gallery visitors is undoubtedly a unique approach to history that remains subject to her sensibility as an artist. “Although it illuminates certain historical events, its purpose is not to create a historical narrative per se, but rather to create reflections on historical processes, as well as the notions of temporality by which we understand the past, present, and future.” notes its gallery owner Joumana Asseily.

A view of the exhibition Uncertain Times by Lamia Joreige at Marfa Gallery. DR

In parallel with this installation, Lamia Joreige also presents a short video entitled “Sun and Sea”, which she made at the invitation of Etel Adnan, based on the first poem written in French in 1949 by the late philosopher and artist. We will remember this sentence from the discussions recorded in Greece, against the background of the blue sea and the sunny landscape, addressed by the young artist to his elder: “I find it very difficult to make a work like yours that only talks about the beauty of the sky and ignores the condition of the earth. the world. »

“Uncertain Times”, an exhibition to see, read, decipher and meditate on…

*Lamia Joreige’s exhibition “Uncertain Times” runs until January 28, 2023 at Marfa’ Gallery.

Lamia Joreige, an important voice in contemporary art

Lamia Joreige was born in Lebanon in 1972. A visual artist, his work on the Lebanon wars (1975-1990) and the post-war period in Beirut was the beginning of thinking about history and its possible narratives. Since then, he has made a body of work based mainly on archival documents and fictional elements that provide food for thought about the relationship between individual stories and collective history. In 2009, he co-founded the Beirut Art Center with Sandra Dagher, a non-profit space dedicated to contemporary art in Lebanon. He has presented his works in numerous film festivals, museum exhibitions and biennales, including Pompidou Center in Paris, Tate Modern in London, Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, New Museum in New York, Sharjah Biennale. , in the Lebanese pavilion of the Venice Biennale in 2007… She has also contributed to various publications and is currently one of the most important female artists in the Arab world.

In Lamia Joreige, everything is born of anxiety. This fear is felt in a pervasive way in the idea of ​​the possible destruction of his city Beirut or even the complete dismemberment of his country Lebanon. An anxiety that drives him to regularly delve into archival documents to reread the present in light of the past… In a previous installation…

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