L’Institut des Cultures d’Islam in Paris presents “C’est Beyrouth,” an exhibition that is taking place between March 28, and July 28. Showcasing the work of multidisciplinary artists the exhibit sheds light on the Lebanese capital while portraying its contradictions, individuals, and its miss understood narratives.
Being referred to as the Switzerland of the Middle East during its economic boom in the 1970s, Lebanon has since evoked the trauma of civil war, a fragmented multi-faith society, and ambiguity towards homosexuality. Despite the stereotypes, “C’est Beyrouth” offers its viewers a distinct depiction of Lebanon.
Attempting to heal from the civil war which took place between 1975 and 1990 the Lebanese capital encountered new conflicts with Israel in 2006. A key date for the starting point of the exhibition, “it was a way to tell a contemporary Beirut.” “The war broke a hope in Beirut, a new war for the younger generations and a lot for older generations to handle,” Says Sabyl Ghoussoub, writer, photographer, and curator of the Franco-Lebanese exhibition. This war has caused individuals to lose hope in the fragile process of the reconstruction of an urban landscape that still questions the identity of the country.
Focusing on the nuances of a complex metropolis, while showing atypical and unknown facets, the exhibition showcases sixteen artists from French and Lebanese nationalities who reveal a new perspective of the city through their experiences. Familiar with the Lebanese routine, they approach the stories of the city life while working on themes of the body, religion, the ignored minorities and the communities of Beirut.
From the opening of the exhibition, the artist Fouad Al Khoury paints an intimate portrait of the war in Beirut, with his work “On War and Love.” An unpublished video montage that brings together photographs of the artist and archive footage from 2006.
Subsequently, two French and Lebanese perspectives complement each other in the first series of photographs that presents Beirut through the prism of the bodies and the importance of the appearance. While Vianney Le Caer, addresses the place of masculinity in the Lebanese public space, Ziad Antar questions the meaning of manhood in Arab society.
The exhibition continues with themes related to the religious practices of a multi-faith society. While Hassan Ammar’s photographs of the tattooed bodies prove to be a medium of expression within Shia communities, the daily lives of Lebanese Christians in the work of Patrick Baz reveals the omnipresence and subtlety of religious symbols in the public space. Finally, Ramadan, the sacred month of the Muslims, is represented through the video work of Sirine Fattouh on the “Tabbal” the individual responsible for the morning awakening of Muslim believers before the resumption of fasting. The hall of the L’Institut des Cultures d’Islam is also dedicated to the practices of the fasting of Ramadan, lived by various social categories of Beirut found in the photographs of Natalie Naccache.
This multidisciplinary exhibition also highlights the unknown minorities in Beirut. The clichés focus on various life paths: the nocturnal excesses of a group of young Beirut seeking escape by Cha Gonzalez, the journey of a homosexual couple between Beirut and Ramallah by Roy Dib or the relational paradoxes an Armenian Christian mother and her gender queer son by Mohamad Abdouni.
Not far from reality, the clichés also echo political and migratory issues. On the one hand, photographic portraits of Myriam Boulous focus on the lives of migrant domestic workers in their spare time. On the other hand, the works of Christophe Donner and Dalia Khamissy address the marginalized life stories of Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in Beirut.
All the premises of the L’Institut des Cultures d’Islam are available to welcome the exhibition; The interdisciplinary work is divided between Léon and Stephenson Street. Thus, at the intersection of Stephenson and Doudeauville streets, an original piece from Randa Mirza’s “Beirutopia” series was created to immerse the visitors at the core of the transformation of the architectural and real estate heritage of the Lebanese capital. The Hammam of Institute is used to accommodate a video installation by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. Seven videos present the stories of workers, domestic workers or refugees, often forgotten in Beirut’s everyday life.
Following the exhibition, the L’Institut des Cultures d’Islam will host every two days various conferences, documentaries, debates and other meetings on its premises. Their aim is to confront the eyes of artists, speakers, visitors and followers, and individuals that have a curiosity for Beirut during the four months cycles. Among others, a screening of the film “Je veux voir” by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, a literary and musical encounter with Lebanese cartoonist Zeina Abirached and a ballad initiation workshop with Alexandre Paulikevitch. Young public activities will be proposed including a workshop under the direction of Patrick Baz.”Smartphone photography, knowing how to seize the moment,” as well as various debates such as “Struggles for LGBTQI rights and visibilities,” “Syrian refugees, a crisis in power? “Lebanon, State, and Communities (1920-2019)”.
“C’est Beyrouth” fascinates by the unexpected look at the daily life of its inhabitants. The exhibition immerses us in an urban dynamic emphasized by captivating discoveries and encounters. The plurality of the artistic disciplines shapes Beirut’s identity beyond the lens of war and the current migration crisis. An identity search directly imbued with the past and present issues facing Lebanese society every day. Understanding the many facets of Beirut through the diversity of the exhibition will, according to Sabyl Ghoussoub, “above all it will give keys of comprehension to the visitors.”
This article was translated.