Sketch of bird’s nest installation from barbed wire.

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.


The image that represents 2020 for me is a sketch I made of an installation of five totems, inspired by native American totems. They are linked to the land. When native Americans were colonised in America they had a lot to do and worked with the land, but foreigners came with iron, machines, horses and fire. This was what Palestinian poet and writer Mahmoud Darwish described. Totems resemble fuel barrels – materialism. Capitalism made petroleum a red line as if it’s a God. Totems also resemble the political leaders that people admire and are enslaved to. This all goes back to capitalism.

Totem Sketch inspired by Indian totems.

In this year I accomplished some exhibitions and some small stuff, but the main thing was working in agriculture, raising chickens and bees. The tool I’ve been mostly using is secateurs! During this time, I was reading articles and research, but mainly more about plants, bees, and nature.

 Katanani’s most frequently used tool throughout this time.

Katanani’s most frequently used tool throughout this time.

The pandemic made me realise how attached I am to nature and how this has been reflecting on my work lately. I started feeling this when I moved to Debbiyeh, because here I have a place in nature. There was no chance to have this in Sabra. Before, I had no communication with nature. My communication was with cement, zinc and iron and so on. So now even the art I am working on is inspired by nature. I am working on more organic shapes found in nature in barbed wire – and I am creating a bird’s nest installation from barbed wire.

Sketch of bird’s nest installation from barbed wire.
Sketch of bird’s nest installation from barbed wire.
Sketch of bird’s nest installation from barbed wire.
Sketch of bird’s nest installation from barbed wire.

During lockdown, I spent a lot of time beekeeping. This started a year and a half ago, when I had a beehive that was about to die. It survived the winter, but it made me think – why do bees live in nature without the need for medicine or having someone taking care of them but once you put them in a beehive, they need care and if you don’t do that they die? So, I started to do some research on how bees live in nature, and I began implementing this research by creating a new beehive. It has been a success so far, and now I have two beehives. They are not producing honey yet because the experiment is still in its early stages. I took a picture of their home. I made something to protect them from the sun and water. I created it using material I use in my work. I was inspired by an installation I did.

Apiary in Debbiyeh built with material used in Katanani’s installations.
Apiary in Debbiyeh built with material used in Katanani’s installations.

This story reminds me of our relationship to the city. I believe the city resembles a box or a cube where we work, giving all our capacity, our maximum energy for a salary or to provide a living, but in the end, this city is draining us and giving psychological health issues. We are running after happiness, but no one knows if we’ll reach it one day. Maybe we’ll reach happiness after retirement when we leave the city and live in a cottage or in the mountains. The city resembles a prison and it’s not a natural thing to live there. Now, people started moving out of the city, and they are feeling this bond to their land, they are thinking about self-sufficiency, food and general security. Bedouins and farmers used to hate the idea of the city. For them the city is taking all the youthful capacities but at the same time the city is imposing itself as a cultural centre.

We are remembering many things this year. We are entering a period of radical change in life in general. So, I think our perception of society, nature and economics will be different. When it comes to politics as well, we are getting rid of the sacred and forbidden things, step by step.

I think it is a need in people, pushing them to create a change. Technology is playing a big role and the new generation is creating a new means of communication. I don’t know how capable they are of doing something, but they are speaking another language for sure, so we are entering a new era. I would like to document what we are witnessing at this stage. For now, the changes are leading to something worse, but the initiatives that are happening are giving us hope about the upcoming future.

“2020 is the year that inspires a total mind revolution”

The year 2020 is surrealist. It’s a big prison. It’s the year that inspires a total mind revolution. The plot twist is witnessing the totem of the system falling, globally too. In Lebanon we are witnessing the collapse of all the symbols that are presented and protected by capitalism. This is what we noted when other countries interfered, and in the way politicians submitted to them. The collapse will be very bad, but when it happens at least we’ll have an effective role in thinking of and leading in a new way.

Art will have a bigger role later on. For me, the role of great thinkers has been marginalised. But we know that art is connected to our lives and our society. I have huge hope that we will have a better voice and at the same time we’ll be effective in the various aspects of society.

I see the future of art as being more essential in our daily life, more engaged, full of new ideas and challenges. In a note to myself in 15 years, I would write that this is a new era of ideas and identity. Everything is mixed up, but the most obvious thing is that the old system is collapsing, and a new system is about to flourish. I don’t know what kind of system, but I’m so hopeful.


 

Abdul Rahman Katanani Portrait
Abdul Rahman Katanani Portrait

Born in 1983, Sabra, Beirut, Abdul Rahman Katanani is a young Palestinian artist who has lived all of his life as a refugee in the Shatila & Sabra camp in Lebanon. His artistic talents forcefully emerged in his early childhood years when he started to rigorously paint using the painful realities of the refugees’ everyday life in the camp as his subject matter. Hence, his artistic works intensely depict the tragedy of his people, the Palestinian refugees.

His works are considered by many as a realistic and vivid portrayal of the hardships, endurance, and persistent spirit of resistance that are the main characteristics of life in the Palestinian refugee camps. Accordingly, his artistic works reflect the often contradictory feelings of suffering and endurance, hopelessness and hopefulness, pain and happiness, along with the nostalgic feelings for a beloved homeland. What makes Katanani’s works prominent among others is that in his portrayal of his and his people’s feelings as refugees, he utilises the camp’s structural materials of tin and cardboard, rags of old clothes, and old utensils, etc. as his art materials. Katanani’s works represent dramatic and deeply felt compassion motivated by heartfelt experiences and aspirations.


A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #53.

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SELECTIONS is a platform for the arts, focusing on the Arab World.

Selections editorial presents a quarterly print magazine and weekly online publication with high quality content on all subjects related to Art and Culture. Full of world-leading artworks, exquisite brand imagery, original creative illustrations and insightful written articles.
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