First Published: 2017-09-24

Promoting peace and reconciliation in Lebanon through art
Exhibition is inspired by idea of transforming places and objects of violence into something peaceful.
Middle East Online

By Samar Kadi - BEIRUT

Absorbing energy. Grand Hotel Sofar. Ash, ink and pigment on canvas.

What if her art could help bring reconciliation and peace to her violence-plagued country? Is it possible for Beirut, which has long been linked to war and violence, to become the peace capital of the world? With these questions in mind, Lebanese artist Zena el-Khalil set out on a five-year project that culminated in a 40-day exhibition titled Sacred Catastrophe: Healing Lebanon.

The display, including paintings, sculptures and an installation, is held in Beit Beirut, a symbolic building located on the former green line that divided the city and that still carries the traces of Lebanons devastating civil war. The artwork is meant to serve as a call for reconciliation and healing.

I have always been drawn to the idea of transforming objects of violence into something peaceful. In my previous works I was mostly focused on physical objects of violence, like guns and militiamen, and the idea was to subdue and transform them into harmless things, said el-Khalil, who is also a writer and Nada Yoga instructor.

Sacred Catastrophe is closely connected to the land and the people who suffered from violence. All the paintings were made in site-specific locations that endured violence and trauma, starting with el-Khalils hometown of Hasbaya in southern Lebanon, which was occupied by Israel for more than 20 years.

I go to these places, put the canvases on the floor to let them absorb the energy of the space. I hold healing ceremonies, which is a process of meditation, chanting and sacred sound followed with a fire ceremony from objects of the land as a symbolism of purification and releasing. With the ashes, I create ink on site and thats what I use to paint with, el-Khalil said.

With a piece of cloth, usually a veil or a koufieh (Palestinian scarf), the artist strikes the canvases hard, creating imprints.

No two paintings are ever the same, because the energy of each space is so different and it directs me in a different way. So they are very different on a molecular level, she said.

El-Khalil was inspired by different places that witnessed violence across Lebanon, including Khiam prison in the south and houses that were abandoned during the war in Beirut and in the towns of Sawfar and Souk El Gharb in Mount Lebanon.

The installation 17,000 x Forgiveness, which takes up two floors of the building, is a piece of remembrance for those who went missing in the war. It consists of 17,000 wooden beams, one for each of the 17,000 people who disappeared in the war. They are painted in five different shades of green in reference to the green line.

The families of the disappeared are getting old, and many are looking for some kind of solace before they pass It is literally a forest of remembrance. The issue of the missing is a delicate political issue. As an artist I cannot be involved in politics, but what I can do is create a work that can inspire dialogue, el-Khalil said.

Some of the sculptures on display carry excerpts from el-Khalils poems on love and peace. The exhibition also comprises videos and a sound piece meant to promote a sense of well-being and healing. Workshops, events, lectures and panel discussions about healing are also organised along with the exhibition.

Workshops and a daily meditation and peace ceremony will be open to the public. Their goal is to help people find inner peace and to bring them together to spread peace throughout Lebanon.

Mantras in Arabic that mean love (mawada), compassion (rahma) and forgiveness (ghufran) are repeated during the meditation ceremonies. The concept follows the idea that you are what you think and that your thoughts shape your realities, el-Khalil explained.

Were seeing more and more scientific evidence that you can affect the environment around you based on your thoughts. By repeating certain things you can change your personality and habits, she said. If we are going to move forward I believe the answer is love. If you dont know what love is, you cannot give it to others Only by developing a more compassionate relationship with ourselves, can we have compassion towards others.

The artist stressed that using Arabic words for the mantras is meant to reclaim the Arabic language and turn it into an ambassador for peace.

Today whenever you speak Arabic abroad you are (stereotyped) and can get kicked out of a plane, because it is connected to violence and terrorism. So this is an opportunity to use Arabic in a peaceful way.

El-Khalil has exhibited internationally in New York, San Francisco, Miami, London, Paris, Tokyo and Dubai. She has also held solo exhibitions in Lagos, London, Munich, Turin and Beirut.

Sacred Catastrophe: Healing Lebanon runs through October 27 at the Beit Beirut.

Samar Kadi is the Arab Weekly society and travel section editor.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.


Saudi to carry out nuclear power deal with or without US

Rebels evacuate Syria's Eastern Ghouta

Air strikes hit Ghouta despite rebel ceasefire effort

US approves $1 billion in Saudi defence contracts

Exiled Syrian doctors treat refugees in Turkey

Israel ministers welcome US appointment of 'friend' Bolton

Turkey says EU statements on Cyprus 'unacceptable'

In world first, flight to Israel crosses Saudi airspace

Saudi, US must pursue 'urgent efforts' for Yemen peace: Mattis

US, Jordan launch new counterterrorism training centre

Turkey’s largest media group to be sold to Erdogan ally

Two Hamas security force members killed in raid on bomb suspect

Turkey gives watchdog power to block internet broadcasts

EU leaders to condemn Turkey’s ‘illegal’ actions in Mediterranean

Sarkozy says life ‘living hell’ since corruption allegations

Hezbollah leader says debt threatens Lebanon disaster

Ahed Tamimi reaches plea deal for eight months in jail

UN launching final push to salvage Libya political agreement

Conditions for displaced from Syria's Ghouta 'tragic': UN

Sisi urges Egyptians to vote, denies excluding rivals

Rights Watch says Libya not ready for elections

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed