Taking up this issue’s theme of ‘The Diary of an Artist in Confinement Interesting Times’, Selections invited artists to share their thoughts on work, art and life in general since the beginning of the year. We guided them with the following questions:
What image(s) illustrate(s) 2020 for you so far?
If you were to write a note, a reminder, a memory to yourself, or to the world, in a time capsule, and you were to open it 15 years from now, what would it say?
If you had to describe the year 2020 in brief, what would it sound like?
Some of you have dedicated this year so far to working continuously in your studio; some others have found themselves completely demotivated and have halted everything. What have you been doing? Please describe in detail and share with us the work you have been doing during this period.
The pandemic has changed our perception of time and our relationship to our homes. What is your experience?
How do you see the future of art?
Have you been reading?
Some chose to respond in a diary form or with visual storytelling; others provided their answers at varying length and in different ways. Each provides a unique insight into and reflection of the most extraordinary period of our lives to date.
What image(s) illustrate(s) 2020 for you so far?
Several images are superimposed to illustrate this particular year. Empty cities, endless queues in front of supermarkets, neighbourhoods that reassure and support each other singing on the balconies, the incredible heroism of the medical team in Lombardy and everywhere else… and suddenly, the ultimate image, the terrible image that made Beirut and the world tremble, erasing all the others.
For Lebanon, 2020 would clearly be the year of the Apocalypse. For the rest of the world, this is the year they heard very little from the Kardashians. In terms of any plot twist, I would want things to continue in exactly the same way, with people buying more artworks from young emerging artists! And maybe, incidentally, seeing Lebanon become a normal country. But I believe this will be reserved for the distant posterity of the not very emerging artist.
“For the rest of the world, this is the year they heard very little from the Kardashians.”
It is true that confinement does not radically change the lives of many artists, being accustomed to loneliness and isolation, even when surrounded by loved ones, which often makes them not easy to live with. On the other hand, trying to continue a creative process in an extremely anxiety-provoking climate is no easy task. Isolating oneself from daily information and statistics was one way of overcoming this. The temptation was great to deviate from one’s usual thoughts and dive into this unprecedented instant! To dramatically chronicle the events that are all-in-all trivial, compared to the great tragedies of our world. In the end, we go from normalcy to despondency to creative excitement, almost simultaneously. We try to move forward. Simply.
These are anonymous, faceless characters, because they obey an obvious conformity to their destinies, despite the few variations that can be found here and there.
During the lockdown, which I spent between France and Italy, my work remained focused on the irrecoverable damage that a society, like in Lebanon, can inflict upon itself. The theme of exile comes back to me regularly, to the point where I am no longer at home anywhere. I tried to translate the way we leave everything behind, of carrying only the necessary ‘baggage’, to tread on the less burnt grass elsewhere. These are anonymous, faceless characters, because they obey an obvious conformity to their destinies, despite the few variations that can be found here and there.
Nothing has changed for me during this time in terms of tools used. I always had a brush in my hand. My wife started baking bread and gardening more, and I had a brush in my hand. And then there is the smartphone that became the only window to the outside world for many long weeks.
Reading is always part of my daily life. In fact, I transformed my reading memories from my youth into an exhibition at the Agial Art Gallery in 2018. Using a quote from Kafka that served as the title of my exhibition, “Breaking the frozen seas”, literature breaks the frozen seas within us! A sort of cosmic spring. But, despite being in Europe, far from Lebanon and Beirut, your readings bring you back to a certain reality, where you realise that the myth has lasted too long. And that even the days when Beirut was considered the Paris of the Middle East, the whole entity was only an illusion. Ennio Flaiano reminded us of this already in the 1960s.
Ennio Flaiano, Journal des erreurs. Courtesy of the artist.
If I were to write a note to myself to open 15 years from now, it would say: “Hey old devil, I know you smoke too much to be able to read anything in 15 years! Your aged world is spinning on unnecessary things… take them off and the machine will seize up! It has long since relegated the essentials to oblivion. People have inadvertently come to live between different levels of anxiety, by stockpiling toilet paper: the essentials.”
Born in 1964, in Serbia and raised in Mount Lebanon, Sacha Abou Khalil is a self-taught painter, who currently lives between Italy and Lebanon.
Abou Khalil is known for two distinct types of painting: in the first, his commission-based hyperrealist portraits of individuals or families are devoid of any subjective intervention from the artist or narrative, existing almost in a surreal world. In contrast, in his expressionist portraits he draws on the world of famous fiction novels, using himself, family members and recognizable actors to take the roles of characters, inscribing a personal relevance to these texts. Once again, these portraits are devoid of narrative; rather, Abou Khalil seizes a single, fantastical moment from each story and interprets each as an existential reflection on youth, beauty, sexuality, death, and most potently, freedom.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #53.