Carleton Curatorial Laboratory (CCL): Art on a Green Line
Curated by Johnny Alam
19 January – 14 April 2015
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Winner of “First Exhibition in a Public Art Gallery” award, 38th annual Ontario Association of Art Galleries Awards
Between 1975 and 1990, Lebanon was a battleground for local, regional, and international conflicts commonly referred to as the Civil Wars by foreigners and as the “foreign wars on our grounds,” or the “Ahdeth” [events], by Lebanese. Beirut was split by competing ideologies that divided the nation. East Beirut was controlled by Christian parties claiming to fight for the preservation of the Lebanese nation-state against increasing Palestinian militancy. West Beirut was controlled by a coalition of Palestinian, Leftist, and Muslim parties claiming to fight for the primacy of the Palestinian cause against a hegemonic Christian regime. A demarcation line separating East and West Beirut came to be known as the Green Line.
While the origin of this designation is not certain, the Green Line aptly described the post-apocalyptic cityscape it traversed, where streets and buildings were overtaken by wild vegetation. Although the boundary has ceased to exist physically, it remains psychologically present today as a negative site of memory that has at least two levels of meaning. First, it is a symbol of atrocity, a location of ruthless battles, kidnappings, and war crimes. Second, it represents a national identity crisis that continues to divide citizens along ideological lines. It is hard to think of a better location to start writing the unwritten official history of the ongoing Lebanese wars and to document their intergenerational traumas.
Featuring Hassan Choubassi, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Merdad Hage, Lamia Joreige, Jayce Salloum, and Pierre Sidaoui, this exhibition presents a collection of wartime narratives that are intriguingly woven across a rich variety of media, including photographs, videos, books, postcards, and even a metro map. The makers of these works offer vivid experiences of everyday life during wartime, which history books simply cannot convey. The artists’ firsthand experience of war at an early age gives their stories a heightened sense of reality. In their works, they blur the lines between truth and fiction, past and present, memory and history, home and exile, and personal and collective trauma. Each work comes to operate as an alternative form of history and memory, transporting knowledge and narratives about the Lebanese wars across borders, places and times.