On the occasion of the latest chapter of Interaction across the Mediterranean we interviewed Giulia Ferracci, co-curator of Home Beirut. Sounding the Neighbors, to ask her about the creative processes that informed this comprehensive exhibition.
Home Beirut is the third chapter of a series of exhibitions that focus on the artistic scene of some of the most emblematic cities of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Why, after Teheran and Istanbul, you decided to explore Beirut? Can you talk about the similarities and the differences of these three cities?
Giulia Ferracci: Beirut was the essential third chapter of the trilogy. It’s a city bursting with contrasts. It was impossible to ignore it for the project Interactions across the Mediterranean, which started in 2014 with Teheran, followed then by Istanbul. We were researching on the most important issues that inform our times: individual’s freedom, conflicts between ethnic groups, migration flows, religious differences, gender issues, climate change. All of these issues were present in Beirut and are tackled within the show.
The show does not highlight the individual works of each artist, but rather a dialogue between the artworks. It reveals a bigger plan that is to portray the cultural scene of Beirut, which is very much composed by synergies and collective actions. Which one of the works better describes this scenario?
GF: Ashkal Alwan was a project born in 1994 at the end of the Civil War in 1990. It was the first art organization of the city and its contribution was essential since it allowed a small community of artists to get together and exchange ideas and information. Right after Ashkal Alwan, in 1997 the photographers Fuad Elkoury and Samer Mohadad with the artist Akram Zaatary, started the Arab Image Foundation, a non-profit organization that has become a leading photographic institution in the Middle East. In spite of the post-war situation, the Arab Center was able to create an accessible place open to everyone; it did not distinguish between ethnicities, social classes or religious beliefs. Being “open” was more important than having perfectly curated exhibitions.
The exhibition is divided in a series of sections, called homes, and just like every home they have walls, borders and separations. But at the same time there are gates, doorways and windows that work as communication channels with the outside. Could you talk about the idea of the home as a concept of the exhibition?
Haig Aivazian, Rome Is Not In Rome (Stadion), 2016, Courtesy the Artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut-Hamburg
Roy Dib, ZOLL MA’RAKA - A Spectacle of Privacy, 2014, Courtesy the Artist
Lamia Joreige, After The River, 2016, Courtesy the Artist
Jalal Toufic, Lebanese Performance Art; Circle: Ecstatic; Class: Marginalized; Excerpt 3, 2007, Courtesy of the artist
Etel Adnan, Tapestry: Untitled, 2013, Courtesy the Artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut-Hamburg
Sirine Fattouh, Entre les Ruines, 2014, Courtesy the Artist
GF: Despite the obstacles that one can encounter, Beirut means home to many, and that is where the title of the exhibition comes from. The exhibition is composed of sections; one is called Home for everyone? because it focuses on Beirut’s multiplicity and how the latter is perceived in a city where Armenians, Syrians, Palestinians, Druzes, Maronites and countless other communities and refugees cohabit. Most of them live in ghettos, and most of these ghettos are inaccessible for both tourists and locals. When were doing our research we wondered, can accessibility exists in a place with such diversity?
An important chapter is about Memory and how the city has tragically changed over the centuries. In this section, the artists involved tackled the topic by retracing their personal memories of the conflict. There is a chapter about Territory, where is depicted the transition of the city into a big outlet, and how international economical and political interests have distorted the beauty of the capital.
The last chapter is about Joy, that is expressed through dance, music, poetry and how these art forms managed to survive through the most dramatic conditions. Like Sirine Fattouh does with her work Entre les Ruines, where she shows, through dance, that it is possible to rise again as a phoenix from the ashes.Eventually, the show preserves an unfinished look, to keep coherent the exhibition space and its content.
The conflict is a permanent feature throughout the exhibition. How this dramatic condition has influenced Beirut’s artistic production?
GF: By bringing up true heroes. People that at this point have developed an attitude of resistance. There is a common will to survive, to reacting through art, faith, and magic.
How did you engage with the younger artists? Has their artistic vision changed compared to the previous generation?
GF: The work of the previous generations echoes in the production of the younger ones. On the other hand, there is the desire to experiment and deal with topics that are still taboo; such as homosexuality, which is still illegal in Lebanon.
Home Beirut describes the past and the present of the cultural scene of the city. How will the local artists deal with the future?
GF: I can’t guess; what I can say is that the city’s art production will always include an act of “resistance”.
CURA. has published the extensive catalogue that accompanied the exhibition.
CREDITS Photos by Musacchio, Ianniello, Pasqualini