George Awde, Rhea Karam, Sirine Fattouh, Rima Maroun and Randa Mirza were all born after the outbreak of the Civil War in Lebanon in 1975. Their childhood took place in a country which was devastated by war, and their adolescence was buried under the rebel left by the ever changing militias. Their only understanding of the world is rooted in warfare, for it is the only landscape of the world they have ever known. As 1991 brought amnesty to Lebanon, a period of reconstruction and return to normalcy slowly took shape. The shift in power led to inspiration and creativity to record the formative years. No longer plagued by instability, Awde, Karam, Fattouh, Maroun, and Mirza found themselves in a world foreign to them.
While each artist has a unique take on the repercussions of warfare, all of them explore one mutual idea: the wounds which have not healed. They exhibit fragments of their lives from during the war as well as life after, and through the juxtaposition of these two period the viewer is caught in a world filled with resentment and pain. From exploring the history of walls, city landscapes, to the bodies of men in times of silent reflection or religious contemplation, the Open Wounds exhibition explores both the urban and human elements of Lebanon.
By definition, walls are barriers, but in times of strife walls offer a means of communication and self-expression. Having grown up outside Beirut, Rhea Karam photographs the city without people, because for her the walls speak more than any character could. Her aspiration is for the images to evoke curiosity among the viewers, and speak to them about the importance of observing their surroundings with a critical eye. Breathing Walls is a series of images which stand as an archive, illuminating a story of progress.
While Karam highlights the walls as a means of communication, Rima Maroun uses them as backdrops to her main subjects; children. In her series Murmures… she created images where the viewer would only see the backs of children faced against a wall. Her goal is to awaken the spectator’s gaze, without directly engaging it. The link which she established between the images and their rhythm introduces the viewer to a different language, a language which would speak volumes of what the children are unable to express.
While Maroun has children with their backs to the audience, Randa Mirza explores their journey into adolescence and eventually adulthood in her series Pigeon’s Rock. Shot in Rass-Beirut, the images capture young men diving off ‘Pigeon’s Rock,’ capturing an exaggerated display of masculinity, defining the change from adolescence to adulthood in men. Mirza’s images work on a deeper level as well, highlighting the timelessness of Beirut in spite of modernity and the postwar policy of reconstruction. Her other two series exhibited are Parallel Universes which expose the coexistence of the past and present layers of war and peace, while Beirutopia aims to question the future of Beirut and its associated representations, characteristics and how it all culminates to become the future essence of the city.
With Mirza exploring the transition from adolescence to adulthood in her work, George Awde’s focus is on the “Arab Male” in his series Shifting Grounds. The hardened bodies of the men in the photographs reflect a nation plagued by internal struggles. The scars which decorate their flesh symbolize their homes, the undersides of bridges, abandoned lots, and overgrown fields of Beirut. The faces are a façade which offers an opening for desire, danger, and opportunities.
While Awde’s work singularly focuses on men, Sirine Fattouh captures the stories of women from different demographic, socio-economical levels of Lebanon. Her video installation Perdu/Gagné (Lost/Won) allow these women to be heard for the first, and hopefully not the last time.
The photographs combined with the video installation show how the war in Lebanon might be over, it still echoes in the minds and souls of the people. The transition from fear and instability do not disappear overnight, and the scars left over have not healed yet. Open Wounds may have been created by a group of artists born after 1975, but their works give voice to multiple generations whose wounds still have not healed.