Here's to the Healing

Here's to the Healing 

With a passion for compassion, the artist Zena el Khalil explores both the destruction that Lebanon has endured over the years and the country’s reawakening in an all-encompassing project taking place at Beit Beirut


While there are many justifications for describing a new exhibition of works by the Lebanese artist Zena el Khalil as groundbreaking, its size, scope and thought-provoking subject matter must, surely, rank near the top of the list.

                 

The founder of NGO Liban Art, Janine Maamari, who has co-curated the show with Beatrice Merz of the Merz Foundation, certainly believes so.

“For a start, Zena is already an accomplished, international artist, despite her young age and that’s both rare and exciting,” Maamari tells Artscoops. “Secondly, as a multi-media artist who also writes and creates music, Zena has channelled a huge amount of time and effort into this interactive project. I’m confident that visitors will find plenty to take away, on a visual, intellectual and personal level.”

Titled ‘Sacred Catastrophe: Healing Lebanon’, the exhibition is being held at Beit Beirut, where it marks the venue’s first solo project. In the show, El Khalil sets out to create a space of reconciliation, love and light in the heart of the city through a broad range of striking paintings, sculptures, installations, video, photography and sound. Rich in depth and all-encompassing, the project will also include a series of events, during its 40-day run, including workshops, concerts and lectures.

                         

“Reading for Peace” community event, former Shaker Palace, Ras al Jabal, Aley Lebanon. Entrance to venue, 2016


Powerful and dynamic, El Khalil’s pieces depict sites and locations as their subject matter that have been damaged or destroyed by war, violence or environmental catastrophe, but are now participating in the country’s rebirth and reawakening.

Maamari believes that the theme of the exhibition will resonate deeply with Lebanese citizens and others who witnessed or documented the tragic war years and are now experiencing or following the country’s revival.

 “We are all fascinated with Lebanon’s history and its rebirth after the terrible war,” she says. “It’s a hugely important topic, which is why everybody who comes to see the show will be able to find something that strikes a chord with them.”

                         

The methods adopted by the artist to bring the show to fruition were extensive and lengthy, with El Khalil choosing to work on site to produce the paintings, in locations that ranged from Khiam Prison Camp, where inmates were tortured, and the abandoned Grand Hotel Sawfar, to the family home in Hasbaya, which was occupied by the Israeli army.

                              

Site specific paintings. Abandoned Grand Hotel Sawfar


Among the techniques and tools chosen, El Khalil uses a black ink created from residual carbon ashes as paint in her art. Many of the pieces are characterized by repetitive movement and, at times, convey the influence of Indian culture which El Khalil -  a fully trained Nada Yoga instructor - holds dear. Visitors will also notice the engravings of the words ‘love’ (mawada), ‘compassion’ (rahma), ‘forgiveness’ (gufran) and ‘peace’ (salam) on her works, all of which the artist regards as integral parts of the healing process for Lebanon.

                 

Mantra 2, “New Perspectives,” Art Cologne 2015


“The aim is to send a message to clean and clear, take out the bad and replace it with light and love,” Maamari explains.

The pieces exhibited are very different from those that Maamari came across by El Khalil when the two first met in 2009. At that time, the curator was organising an exhibition with a difference showcasing works by a group of young Lebanese artists.

“Instead of asking them to submit a work, which is what they were used to doing, I proposed a theme, which was ‘Rebirth’, and gave them six months to create something for the show,” she explains. “I really wanted them to interpret the theme in their own way.”

Around 20 artists participated in the show, including El Khalil, who exhibited a piece titled ‘Queens and Kings’. Maamari recalls that her work at the time was significantly different, but equally fascinating. “I remember that she was painting puppets or caricatures that she used as a vehicle to cleverly and subtly poke fun at the Lebanese way of life,” she says. “Her work was humorous, but her love and affection for the country also shone through.”

El Khalil, who holds a Masters of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in NYC and a Bachelor of Graphic Design from the American University of Beirut, left to study in Italy after the 2010 exhibition, but has since returned to Lebanon, where she now lives and works, a source of delight for Maamari.

“Since that first show, Zena has developed so many other techniques,” she says. “We lost her to Italy for a while, but since her return, she is doing a wonderfully exciting variety of work, as this new show reveals.”

                           



Sacred Catastrophe: Healing Lebanon
By Zena El Khalil
September 18 - October 27, 2017
Beit Beirut, Lebanon

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