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 Leba­non’s 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-Khalil’s 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 that’s 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-Khalil’s 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.

“We’re 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 don’t 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.

 

Qatar says Gulf crisis hindering fight against IS

Khamenei vows to 'shred' nuclear deal if US pulls out

Baghdad says mission accomplished in Kurd operation

Bahrain accuses Iran of harbouring 160 'terrorists'

Jobless Tunisians seek new migration routes to Europe

Italy busts Libyan diesel smugglers

Fate of IS fighters in Raqa uncertain

Turkish Red Crescent concerned by Idlib humanitarian ‘drama’

US firm to build solar plants in Gaza

Ghost city Raqa scanned for survivors, bombs

Qatar emir calls for talks on visit to Indonesia

Iraq calls on BP to help develop Kirkuk oil

Israeli forces raid Palestinian media offices linked to Hamas

French parliament is set to pass new anti-terror law

Israel says no to Palestine talks until Hamas disarms

IS territory down to almost 10% of 2014 ‘caliphate’

Over 3000 civilians flee Raqa under deal with jihadists

Ideology and objectives clash at Deir Ezzor

Erdogan gets Polish backing on Turkey's EU bid

Iranian guards commander killed in Syria

Fitch Ratings says threat to Qatar liquidity fading

Iran warns EU against new nuclear deal conditions

Turkey activists face trial next week under terror charges

Netanyahu presses Russian defence minister on Iran

US-backed forces announce Raqa recapture

Hollande slams Trump's hardline stance on Iran nuclear deal

Iraq takes control of two key Kirkuk oil fields

US-backed forces retake Raqa state hospital

Divided Iraq tests limited US influence

New UN envoy in Rabat to restart talks on WSahara

Iraqi forces seize Kirkuk governor's office

Iraqi forces seize airport, oil field from Kurds

Saudi Arabia sets conditions to role in Syria reconstruction

In tougher approach, US offers multimillion-dollar reward for Hezbollah operatives

EU ministers join forces in support of Iran deal

Batteries, tape to thank for defeating jihadists in Raqa

Palestinian Authority top official visits Gaza

Israel strikes Syrian anti-aircraft battery in response to shots

Qatar starts to feel pinch from sanctions

Last days of Raqa battles ‘toughest fighting yet’

Omani role has helped Iran but may not do much in crisis with US

Head of IS in Southeast Asia dead

Mogadishu twin bomb death toll at 276

Gazans hope Palestinian reconciliation ends their woes

US-backed forces announce ‘final phase’ of Raqa recapture