A group exhibition with George Awde, Ali Cherri, Sirine Fattouh, Randa Mirza, and Stephanie Saade
The idea for the present exhibition A Territory of Resistance came about during a conversation with artist Sirine Fattouh on two of her videos, Love Talk 1 and Love Talk 2 (2009), in which two professional weight lifters share their perceptions of themselves and their thoughts on how others perceive them. A discussion ensued on the notion of the body in its corporeality and socio-cultural construction.
What aspect of the body is represented in contemporary visual practices? Is it the subject or the object of these practices? How do these practices mediate the corporal and cultural construction of the body? As the body moves from the personal to the social and political body, the agency of power becomes ever more pervasive and identities ever more elusive. The artists and works selected for this exhibition offer a timely reconsideration of the body-social relationships.
In an attempt to reflect on these questions, five Lebanese artists were brought together for A Territory of Resistance: George Awde, Ali Cherri, Sirine Fattouh, Randa Mirza (in collaboration with Italian researcher Giulia Guadagnoli) and Stephanie Saade.
Through various visual media, these artists use the body as the “site on which discourses are enacted and where they are contested.” The body thus viewed appears less as a stable entity and more an historically and culturally forged being or rather, in its constant mutability, a “becoming”. They suggest that bodies are viewed and experienced differently depending on socio-cultural and temporal variables. As a result, it could be argued that it is through this interplay of negotiation and contention that identities are formed in a permanent territory of resistance.
With Love Talk 1 and Love Talk 2, Sirine Fattouh filmed two professional weight lifters sharing their ideas about themselves. Through this video-work, Fattouh opposes the physical body to the social meanings the two bodies of the weight lifters create. Preconceptions about the physicality of these men are put into question as soon as they talk about love and women.
Fattouh goes on to further deconstruct the physical body in An Archeology of the Nose where the artist dissociates her nose from her body by creating silicone casts of it. Under the pretext of observing one of two body parts (the other being the ears) that continue to grow throughout our lives, Fattouh documents the growth of her nose by creating 10 to 20 casts a year to explore the form of the nose through de-contextualisation and “foreignisation”.
The nose thus gains an identity of its own as a pink object reminiscent of sexualised body parts. Fattouh invites viewers to look at the sculpture in its little custom made box, “palpate the object, play with it, stretch it, caress it and feel it”, to further alienate the object from the body as a curiosity and an erotic object. Just like in Gogol’s “Nose”, the silicone noses become phallic symbols of power and desire.
In Triptych – Studies from a Human Body, Ali Cherri portrays his body stretched out horizontally over three screens. The fragmented body thus appears to be a permanent “battlefield” of violence, desires and pressures, trying to construct an identity that negotiates social constructs to reassert itself. Individual agency in creating the sexed body is confronted with other powers at play in the mediated image of the body. How can the body move from the sexed body it has been assigned to the ubiquitous; “how can the body move from the autobiographical project to a universal and potentially anonymous image.”
The body thus becomes in Cherri’s work a performative site, enacting as well as describing the identity it appears to be. Although it purports in this digital triptych to be the body of “order” and “rules” that reflects the normative social body, it nevertheless raises the possibility to challenge it and construct “counter- discourses” and “counter-identities” to contest stigmatised individualities.
Stephanie Saade’s three mobile structures are interactive works conceived to disconcert the viewer in how he presents him/herself to others and how he/she perceives himself/herself. When interacting with the structures, they become extensions of the spectator’s body and present different psychological and physical barriers. These three structures raise questions about the possibility of apprehending the body fully and of controlling the perception of others: they undermine the social body through a play on the somatic presence.
Screen (Structure 1) functions as a shield from one side, but where the viewer is faced on his side with a deconstructed or fragmented image of body as a result of an assemblage of mirrors. In addition, photographs of foliage interspersed between the mirrors, further prevent the viewer from seeing his body as a whole. The viewer is thus faced with the fragility of his psychology unable at any time to grasp the totality of itself or that of its environment – in this case the exhibition – that can only be seen distorted. Both the body and this moving structure are held in a permanent state of re-assessment.
Window (Structure 2) places the viewer behind a mask that presents to others two shiny surfaces concealing the face from others. From his side, the viewer is faced with opaque surfaces similar in gradation to the way mirrors or glass are represented in catalogues preventing the viewer from seeing through the glass or seeing a reflection of herself. The viewer is blinded and blinds others.
Sunset (Structure 3) functions as fogging of the boundaries of reality where the viewer is only presented with a “romantic horizon”, a sunset as he pushes the structure around thus causing the print of sunset to drift gently.
George Awde’s three photographs are taken from the ongoing series Shifting Grounds that like his previous work deals with issues of belonging and identity. In this series, Awde focuses on Syrian migrant workers living in Beirut in an attempt to escape social and economic determinism.
How are these male bodies overwritten with meanings of nation, land and violence reshaped in a new socio-cultural context? In this new city, prejudiced and politicised discourses have made these bodies invisible in any other way than a representation of an underprivileged, undesired minority. As a result “the social body constrains the way the physical body is perceived.”
The portraits of these men conditioned by these contextual relationships reveal an unusual gender role which at times seems alien to them, amplified by Awde’s deliberate decision to picture them in their environment/home. It creates a “bodyscape” where the “Arab Male” is brought to the fore through the physical body, displaying a lonely, vulnerable, hurt body which decries it’s political construct reducing it’s existence in the city to a working body.
Randa Mirza and Giulia Guadagnoli
Artist Randa Mirza and Researcher and gender expert Giulia Guadagnoli present ‘La Tizi’ a 14min video survey on sexual identity socially imposed on the body. This performance and art intervention are a documentation of how viewers perceive images of 16 asses photographed by Mirza on a neutral background and in the same light.
By displaying the ass out of context, the issues of perception of sexuality and the complexity of desire are explored through this particular part of the body. The artist and researcher focused on the ass for its gender ambiguity devoid of a context and for its metonymy for the physical body. With this humourous methodology, the artist and researcher were able to explore the complex human processes that drive desire on the thin line between of appeal and revulsion.
La tizi as an ongoing documentation of asses questions the immutability of sexual identity formation. With the survey the audience is faced with their mis- perceptions and simplifications of the gender dichotomy.
(information and pictures kindly provided by The Running Horse Gallery)