Gods of the Frontier, Madrid, 2019
In a nod to the world’s hottest storytelling platform – Pecha Kucha or “show and tell” – Selections has asked a
number of artists and designers to talk about a specific project through imagery and an economy of words. The
result is a simple yet engaging and visually captivating tale that sheds light upon the work whilst providing
insights into the life and personal thoughts of each featured artist and designer. Passion and knowledge all
wrapped into one.
Portrait of Clara Carvajal
Portrait of Clara Carvajal

Trained as a sculptor, I work with cultural processes and languages of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. My approach develops an artistic dialogue with language forms in order to expose how common foundations of social communication processes reflect across cultures distant in time and space. Those forms run from common images to digital technology and geometric graphic scripts that I treat as encrypted communication elements that transmit via the social conscience and the individual unconscious. In my work the message is the language.


 

Gods of the Frontier, Madrid, 2019. A project by artist Clara Carvajal about Lebanese society since the 1940s, up to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1975
Gods of the Frontier, Madrid, 2019. A project by artist Clara Carvajal about Lebanese society since the 1940s, up to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1975

Although my project is about modern Lebanon, I’m not interested in big issues but want to focus instead on how its individuals confronted independence and civil war. My work uses a selected portfolio of images from the Arab Image Foundation, the An-Nahar newspaper and archives of Emile Boulos Divers to expose social archetypes of that period. The intention is to find clues that reveal intentionality, thus unveiling how individuals tried to convey an image of their world regardless of its reality. In that sense, archetypes prove useful to identify elements constituting the character of the country.

What makes the result interesting is to see how the struggle of that new nation in search for an identity and speeding towards civil conflict is impacting the subjects of the selected images. Hence, to understand how that struggle casts archetypes and conveys certain messages under the pressure exhorted by different parties fighting for supremacy of ideals. My woodcuts, based on the photographs, symbolise the analysis of the aspirational and self-defining symbology of that crucial historical moment. They allow for an artistic approach to the subjects as a means to read the inner soul of the country through that of their inhabitants.

A mature woman holds a rifle in a determined attitude. There is something spiritual about this pose, in which the frame focuses on the model and highlights the way she holds the weapon, which shows how familiar she is with it. But neither violence nor any of the hard feelings usually associated with it are transmitted. On the contrary, it is a peaceful and harmonious image, like those that show some goddesses of war that transmit instead the wisdom of the deity in question. Lebanon is possibly this peaceful deity, that reigns with wisdom over violence, with the tranquillity that instils the determination that banishes fear. This woman-model does not try to offer us anything else than the naturalness, tranquillity and the violent context that represents a weapon in her hands.

There is no better way to get away from your own origins than to make them into a trivial children’s game. Could American Indians play at being Indians? Can the descendants of African slaves play at being slaves? This image of a child on his toy horse, dressed as a gentleman and with a cloth covering his head is a way of exorcising the Bedouin origin of Arab tribes. Maybe could be changed to that of a native child playing at being a little western lord. Maybe that would be more in line with the reality of his moment.

We are what we live and we live what we are. When your mother has taken a rifle without even removing her earrings, you begin to understand the meaning of being a descendant of a goddess of war, without losing the perspective of the child who sees his future marked, going forward. Lebanon is also a child of war, born to a mother who struggled to give birth and who has left that violent destiny engraved in memory. This scene of mother and child explains more than it seems in giving, in plastic form, a sample of the bond of blood that for almost a century has marked the existence of that family gathered around a flag.

Those images that are surprising without showing anything extraordinary are immersed in a halo of modernity. This is one of them. Nothing gives an indication of what is happening, beyond that a model uses a pose unusual in a man in a day-to-day environment. Perhaps the strangeness arises from that particular combination of the most ordinary with the least usual despite the harmony of the whole. In the same way too, one reaches the center of Beirut, with the feeling of restlessness that produces the mismatch of the lack of correspondence between elements. All this with a great artistic subtlety from which to draw many lessons, not only aesthetic but perhaps in other aspects of life: the social, the family, the political …

We do not know very well if children play to emulate the older ones or it is the older ones who never abandon their childhood when they practice violence. This pair of children in a room in ruins, are holding real weapons. They themselves are also real, and yet there is something in the scene that makes it fictitious. And that is that the children are so perfectly arranged. Their clothes are almost festive and their expressions do not reveal fear, not even the rictus of attention demanded by the extreme violence that corresponds to the possibility of killing and to the possibility of dying. It is as if these children were visiting a familiar scenario, assuming attitudes with which they are familiar, representing a scene that is not alien to them. They are children prepared for war not because they have had military training, but rather because the war has touched them closely. So Lebanon shows a society concerned with fashion and a fashion familiar with war.

When beauty is conscious, it ceases to be beauty and becomes an artificial construct. This woman shows an established code of feminine beauty, adopting a theatrical pose that makes one doubt the nature of beauty in which the scene is based . A necklace and an item of apparel whose only function is to show off, instead of hide are the only impediment to the nudity shown,. The true beauty that can be sensed under this image, seems to be saying, “Look what they have made me do, see what they force me to do so that no one overlooks me. “ And in saying that, she is showing how impossible it is to discover it as the natural attribute that could have been. Some of this perverse eloquence is observed in this country of inopinable beauty.

All the photographs that appear in this publication belong to the archives of the Arab Image Foundation, the An-Nahar newspaper and the photographer Emile Boulos Divers at their Beirut headquarters.

Image texts: by Teo Millán and translated to English by Emma Hooper and Teo Millán.

“CLARA CARVAJAL FOCUSES ON HOW LEBANESE
INDIVIDUALS DEVELOPED BETWEEN INDEPENDENCE AND
CIVIL WAR”

Above images: Woodcuts inspired by original images from the archives of the Arab Image Foundation, An-Nahar and Emile Boulos Divers.


A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS, SHOW & TELL #51 PAGES 62 – 65.

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