Here’s another reason to visit Venice this year (as if we needed more convincing!). Taymour Grahne Gallery is celebrating the Middle Eastern Pavilions—Next year, the New York-based gallery is having solo show with three of the artists participating in the 55th art extravaganza: Mohammed Kazem, Camille Zakharia, and Tarek Al Ghoussein.
Dubai-born artist Mohammed Kazem, who is part of the “second generation” of Emirati Contemporary artists and a protégé of Hassan Sharif, is representing the UAE. This year will mark the third time the UAE has been represented at the Venice Biennial and the first time it is presenting a solo show in its pavilion.
Camille Zakharia is one of the artists representing Bahrain this year. His work, Coastal Promenades, was part of the Bahrain Pavilion for the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale, for which Bahrain received the Golden Lion award.
Artist Tarek Al Ghoussein has been tapped to represent the National Pavilion of Kuwait. The pavilion will be housed in Palazzo Michiel, a historic palazzo in Venice’s Cannaregio sestiere!
The Past, Asghar Farhadi (2013)
Out of Line (2010) - Saudi Artist Jowhara AlSaud
This body of work began as an exploration of censorship in Saudi Arabia and it’s effects on visual communication. While there is a lack of consistency from region to region, overall, images are highly scrutinized and controlled. Some superficial examples of this would be skirts lengthened and sleeves crudely added with black markers in magazines or blurred out faces on billboards.
I tried to apply the language of the censors to my personal photographs. I began making line drawings, omitting faces and skin. Keeping only the essentials preserved the anonymity of my subjects. This allowed me to circumvent, and comment on, some of the cultural taboos associated with photography. Namely the stigma attached to bringing the “personal portrait”, commonly reserved for the private domestic space, into a public sphere.
It became a game of how much can you tell with how little. When reduced to sketches, the images achieved enough distance from the original photographs that neither subjects nor censors could find them objectionable. For me, they became autonomous, relatable, pared down narratives.
I’ve always been interested in how photography functions, and I try to undermine any documentary authority it may possess as a medium. I’ve always felt that a photograph functions more like a memory, in that it’s a singular perspective of a split second in time, entirely subjective and hence impressionable. By etching these drawings back into film and printing them in a traditional darkroom, I’m trying to point out how malleable it is as a medium, even before digital manipulation became so advanced and accessible. With these interventions emerges a highly coded and self-reflexive language. What also interests me is that the information omitted (faces, skin and emulsion) creates an image of its own, as do the censors to our cultural landscape. - Jowhara Alsaud
A report covering the state of Syrian youth, released by UNICEF in March 2013, notes that due to the effects of the conflict on Syrian youth and education, there will be a ‘lost generation.’ The report states that ‘many schools have been damaged, destroyed or taken over by displaced people seeking shelter. Countless children suffer from the psychological trauma of seeing family members killed, of being separated from their parents and being terrified by the constant thunder of shelling.’
More on Lebanese Rocket Society:
The adventure of the Lebanese Rocket Society began, in the early sixties, at Haigazian University, a young Armenian University in Beirut, where a group of students, led by a professor of mathematics, Manoug Manougian, set up the Lebanese Rocket Society to create and launch rockets for space study and exploration. They produced the first rocket of the Arab World. The project had no military character and was aimed at promoting science and research.
The adventure, which appears nowadays rather unbelievable and surrealistic, was nevertheless a serious one. Between 1960 and 1967 at the time of the Space Race, revolutionary ideas, and Pan-Arabism more than ten solid fuel Cedar rockets were launched. The launchings gave rise to national celebrations. To commemorate the 21st anniversary of Lebanon’s independence, a set of stamps representing the Cedar IV rocket was issued. The Arab defeat of 1967 put an end to the initiative and slowed down the thrive towards this aspect of technological modernity of this part of the world.
Nowadays, considering the world divisions and the bellicose attitudes, it would be unconceivable to allow a small team of dreamers to launch rockets into the skies of the Middle East.
The project enables us to consider the historic events of those years: pan-Arabism, the notion of a vast Arab nation and its decline after the Arab armies were defeated by Israel in 1967. A defeat which confused our societies, our parents generation, and which transformed deeply the Arab world and, first and foremost, our image of ourselves.
The documents, photos and mainly films relating to the space project have disappeared.
This unusual and heroic adventure, which had made the front pages of the press, is nowadays forgotten. It appears like an anecdote in the course of history, a story kept secret.
The project investigates the apparent absence of the Lebanese space program from our personal and collective memory, shedding light on our perceptions of the past and present and our imagination of the future, exploring the notion of a collective dream. Documents and archives as well as reconstitutions and art installations attempt to question this story and the ideas of reenactment, reconstitution and restaged in the present time. (x)
Beginning in the 1960s (and lasting only until the end of the decade), Lebanon was the first country in the Middle East to run its own space program. Lebanese Rocket Society, a documentary by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, resurrects those faded memories.
The Lebanese Civil War left the country in a state of collective amnesia, washing away all traces of the ‘Space Race’ of the 60s from public memory. As a result, Hadjithomas and Joreige were forced to put together and artistically re-interpret hints and leftover ‘clues’ to reconstruct the story of a real, experienced memory, which had all but sunk into oblivion. Serving as an almost hallucinatory tale for the ears of the Lebanese public, Lebanese Rocket Society is not only an investigation into the history of the Lebanese space program, but also a reflection on the notions of ambition, destruction, and reconstruction. Beginning with a focus on the small team of motivated and determined Armenian students of Beirut’s Haigazian University and their ‘coach’, professor Manoug Manougian, the artists highlight the widespread support of the Rocket Society, as well as its peaceful, scientific aims. With little resources at hand, Manougian and his team created fuel from raw material, and successfully launched several rockets, each of which attained new heights as their experiments progressed. Gradually, the project expanded to include researchers from other universities in Lebanon and the surrounding region, turning into a countrywide initiative of national importance. After the launch of several larger experimental rockets – one of which almost landed in nearby Cyprus – that caused international concern, the Lebanese army also stepped in, in the hope of advancing its artillery. However, due to increasing international pressure, especially from France and Israel (according to Manougian) the dream – for whatever reasons – came to an abrupt end in the late 60s, in an era of national and regional conflicts, and during the zenith of the pan-Arab dream, spearheaded by Gamal Abdel Nasser.
If we take a quick look at the Kuwait of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Kuwait was a home for Arabs, in the true sense of openness. We were truly influencing the Arab stage, on a cultural level. When we speak of theatre, for example, there was Zaki Tulaimat from Egypt. When we speak of the Al-Arabi Magazine, there was Ahmed Zaki Akef. When we speak of anything, be it our schools, the Palestinian presence in education, or Egyptian presence, and so forth, there was a true sense of openness. This openness and cultural exchange was productive. For these reasons, Kuwait was described as a cultural pioneer at that time. And I stress, at that time, when it first published Al-Arabi, and when they established the National Council and so on. There was an abundance of cultural production as a result of this openness, whereas we are now isolated and for this reason we are regressing.
Alsanousi’s novel, The Bamboo Stalk, “looks objectively at the phenomenon of foreign workers in Arab countries and deals with the problem of identity through the life of a young man of mixed race who returns to Kuwait, the ‘dream’ or ‘heaven’ which his mother had described to him since he was a child” (Arabic Fiction).