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.
Lyne Sneige is currently the director of the Arts & Culture Centre at the Middle East Institute (MEI) in Washington, DC. She has over 18 years of experience in international development in the Middle East. Before joining MEI, Sneige was deputy director Lebanon and regional projects manager for Arts and Culture for MENA at the British Council operating out of Beirut. She has extensive experience in strategy and planning as well as project management, and has many years of experience in the arts and culture scene in Lebanon and the Middle East.
Sneige is a Salzburg Global Seminar fellow and a consultant to the Beirut Museum of Art (BeMA) that is set to open in 2023. She sits on the selection committee of the Beirut Art Fair and on the board of Action for Hope, a Beirut-based NGO that provides cultural relief and cultural development programmes to meet the social, cultural and psychological needs of distressed and displaced communities.
The images that follow are a selection of artworks that speak to the power of the arts to help us build more empathetic, inclusive and just societies.
Artists play an important role in their societies as change agents, inspiring and at times, leading positive social change and transformations. They are often the first to speak up about societies’ills and wrongdoings, giving a voice to the voiceless, humanising the “other” and countering the dominant narrative. Artists are the conscience of our societies, and their ability to help change mindsets and instill better values is key to our capacity to imagine and seek more equitable, inclusive and empathetic societies. Amid popular uprisings in Lebanon, the Middle East and beyond, led largely by a young generation grown frustrated by rising economic inequalities, dire political, economic and environmental mismanagement, it is particularly important to leverage the potential of the arts to help us connect as people and imagine better futures that our younger generations are aspiring for and deserve. From the visual arts to the performing arts, film and photography, artists have been at the forefront of tackling social taboos, calling for a better social contract and fostering more empathetic communities. The images that follow are strong examples of the ability of the arts to shape forwardlooking societies, build community, and break stereotypes. Without artists, filmmakers, writers, poets, performing artists and musicians, our societies will degrade.
Arabicity/Ourouba is the inaugural exhibition of the new Middle East Institute Art Gallery in Washington DC, a space dedicated solely to showcasing contemporary art, photography and video from the Middle East. Arabicity/Ourouba, curated by Rose Issa (September 13-November 22, 2019) brings together the works of 17 leading contemporary artists from the Middle East and touches on themes related to memory, identity, war, reconstruction and displacement, and a host of other issues affecting the region at this critical time. The work highlights the crucial r ole that artists play in their societies and breaks stereotypes often associated with perceptions of the Middle East region as a security threat rather than an artistic and vibrant place.
This mural in West Philadelphia in the United States by internationally renowned French-Tunisian artist eL Seed explores themes of home, identity and displacement, and how they affect us all in different ways. The mural brightens and unifies a neighbourhood that has suffered its share of displacement and opens up important conversations on the topic. The below quote from W.E.B. Du Bois is written in Arabic on the wall:“I believe that all men, black and brown and white, are brothers, varying through time and opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, and alike in soul and the possibility of infinite development.” – excerpt from Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil published in 1920.
I Hate Theater I Love Pornography (2019), by Zoukak Theatre Company, is an investigation on current forms of corruption plaguing today’s world. It uses theatricality as a tool to question how we position ourselves as artists and as individuals with regards to the multiple representations of this corruption. This work was performed in Norway as part of the IBSEN conference in 2014, in India as part of ITFOK – International Theatre Festival of Kerala in 2015, and in Lebanon. This project was partly developed at the Sundance Theatre Image Courtesy of Zoukak Theatre Company Lab in Utah, United States, in July 2017.
This series of work by Syrian artist and activist Khaled Barakeh humanises both the living and the dead, whilst expressing the human cost of the war and the horrors of people caught in it. The photographs used in this series Untitled Images were captured in various locations in Syria, though they all depict a similarly horrific loss. There are multiple levels of violence present in these works; the regime’s murder of Syrian citizens, the brutality of the media’s choosing which images to disseminate and finally the artist’s own intervention in these photographs. Implicating his own practice in the violence of this conflict, Barakeh has cut and peeled away the skin and identity of the deceased in an almost surgical act. This process, equally savage and protective, highlights the presence of the victims through their absence, whilst simultaneously shielding them in anonymity.
Action for Hope is an NGO that believes in the role of arts and culture in empowering individuals and communities, particularly those in distress. The NGO provides people with access to culture and tools for creative expression to enrich their lives, increase the cultural capital of communities around them and enable their contribution to our shared humanity. Mada music ensemble, from graduates of Action for Hope Music School. Bekaa, Lebanon, September 14, 2019 – Action for Hope Cultural Centre-The Scene Theatre.
Art In Schools Beirut Museum of Art in partnership with the Lebanese ministry of education.
“ARTISTS PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN THEIR SOCIETIES
AS CHANGE AGENTS, INSPIRING AND LEADING POSITIVE
SOCIAL CHANGE AND TRANSFORMATIONS”
Art In Schools is BeMA’s (Beirut Museum of Art) flagship artist-in-residence programme in Lebanese public schools that aims to enrich the educational experiences of children. The programme invites artists to work alongside students who have little or no access to cultural expression. Using a wide range of art forms, the residencies span six to eight weeks and focus on building community and citizenship whilst instilling creative skills and critical thinking. Launched in 2017 the programme is run in partnership with the ministry of education and rolls out several residencies during the academic year in various geographical areas.
This ground-breaking work by Zoukak Theatre Company, Nes Bsamneh W Nes Bzeit, is a 35-minute street performance with giant puppets, based on documentation of testimonies of victims of domestic violence in Lebanon. Starting with a marriage/funeral procession, the performance uses local proverbs and twists popular sayings to shed the light on the situation of thousands of women who lack a legal framework to protect them against abuse. Through a direct address to the public, Nes Bsamneh W Nes Bzeit exposes the daily horrid experiences of these women as a cry supporting the decree of the law against domestic violence in Lebanon.
In this installation entitled Man Does Not Live on Bread Alone (2013), Paris-based Palestinian artist Taysir Batniji reflects on issues of mobility and borders and the freedom of movement that Palestinians are denied. He does so by engraving Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on household soaps, soap being a highly symbolic industry long associated with Palestine and more precisely with the city of Nablus in the West Bank.
This immersive installation by Beirut-based Palestinian artist Abdul Rahman Katanani simulates life in a refugee camp and reflects on the precarity of life. The installation interrogates the kind of future that awaits us and invites audiences to consider other scenarios away from this dire reality.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS, SHOW & TELL #51 PAGES 86-89.