“A foreign film with subtitles” is how curator Juliana Khalaf describes Subtitled: With Narratives from Lebanon. The exhibition, showcasing the work of over thirty contemporary Lebanese artists, is the second of its kind outside of Lebanon organized by the Association for the Promotion and Exhibition of the Arts in Lebanon (APEAL), following a successful first outing to Washington DC last year.
A smart crowd attended the opening night on Thursday, which was accompanied by a panel discussion featuring some of the artists in the exhibition. How to reclaim a city, asked Lebanese artist Nada Sehanoui during a presentation of her work, when the scars from the conflict are still felt today? She described the amnesty following the war as a collective amnesia, producing a fragmented reality and indeed, much of the work on show is preoccupied with memories of Beirut during the war. But the artists do not fetishize the ruined city, something easily done in the West. Hadjithomas and Joreige’s 2001 video, Rounds, features regular collaborator Rabih Mroué driving alone around Beirut and musing on the city. But Beirut is never visible, the light outside the car is so overexposed that the car seems surrounded by a bright fog. We are free to imagine the city from Mroué’s piecemeal observations, which end with a description of the sea highway, constructed from the ruins of the war-torn city. “Don’t be too moved,” he says, offhandedly. Other works, such as Ayman Baalbaki’s 2011 painting of the Bourj al-Murr tower, function as a hazy document with the monolith seemingly isolated in time.