The Daily Star


The same six subjects are speaking, but there is a gap of eight years between the video on the left and the video on the right. To create the installation “Khiam 2000-2007,” the Lebanese artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige returned twice to a subject that could not be filmed.

In 1999, they met six people who had been imprisoned in Khiam, the notorious detention center run by Israel’s proxy militia, the South Lebanon Army. At the time, Israel was still occupying a band of villages on the border, so Hadjithomas and Joreige were unable to access the site.

Among ordinary people – neither medics nor military nor diplomatic staff – Khiam in the 1990s existed only in anecdotes, never in images. The six prisoners – including Soha Bechara, who had been jailed for trying to assassinate the SLA boss Antoine Lahd – describe their daily lives in detention, filling the void of visual information with a vivid mental map of isolation and deprivation.

The emphasis of the first film, which was completed in 2000, just as the Israelis withdrew and the detention center was dismantled, rests on the incredible perseverance and ingenuity of the inmates, who found the will to live in the production and trade of tiny, artisanal objects – artworks of a kind in a radically circumscribed world.

After the Israelis left, Hezbollah turned Khiam into a museum.

During the 2006 war, the Israeli Air Force bombed it to smithereens. A year later, Hadjithomas and Joreige interviewed the same six people again – in the second film, they are sadder, less heroic – and again, Khiam did not as such exist.

The return to this twice-made ruin is one of the most explicit articulations of a theme explored in an exhibition that opened last week in Algiers, where “Khiam 2000-2007” is installed alongside a dramatic series of photographs, titled “War Trophies,” showing Khiam reduced to rubble.


By Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

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