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Sacred Catastrophe: Healing Lebanon

About the Project

Sacred Catastrophe : Healing Lebanon aims to transform Beirut into a “city of light” through an art exhibition, 40-day public performance, publications, lectures, concerts and workshops targeting art and peacemaking. The multi-disciplinary intervention is using one of Beirut’s most iconic war-torn buildings, Beit Beirut, located on the former demarcation line of the city, to create a platform for community reconciliation.

The exhibition is curated by Beatrice Merz and Janine Maamari, supported by the Fondazione Merz and Liban Art, and is under the patronage of the Municipality of Beirut and the Italian Cultural Institute, Beirut.

For 40 days, Zena el Khalil’s personal exhibition will be accompanied by numerous events (workshops, conferences, performances, debates), will animate Beit Beirut, a symbol of the troubled history of Lebanon’s war. The building is located on the former “green line”, on what was a “no-man's land” that during the Lebanese civil war served as a demarcation line dividing the city into two.

Zena el Khalil has always been deeply involved in the memory and history of her country and of the consequences that have derived from it. Her work focuses on the consideration that art and culture can have a positive impact on the world. In particular, for this project she reflects on the will to transform an idea, an object, a place of violence into something that generates peace.

For the Beit Beirut exhibition, Zena el Khalil presents a series of paintings, sculptures, sound and video works distributed over the four floors of the building. The works presented in the exhibition are the result of a working method the artist has pursued in recent years, a process that begins with healing ceremonies in places that have endured violent experiences such as massacres, torture of human beings or also environmental disasters. By following a set of creative processes, negative energy residues are transmuted into love and light. On the first floor, the artist presents paintings she makes using intricate fabrics, such as kuffiyehs, dipped in a black ink she creates from ash and pigment. The photography and videos describe the places where the healing ceremonies have been held, showing the state of destruction as a result of the war. The artist uses artistic repetitions or “mantras” of the words love, forgiveness, and compassion in Arabic to relieve the buildings of their pain towards peace and reconciliation. The same words of peace, love, forgiveness and compassion are again the protagonists of ceramic and stone sculptures. A sound installation fills the entire exhibition space, linking all the works together. Finally, on the second and third floor, there is a single large installation, a “forest” of memory and remembrance of the 17,000 people declared missing in the conflict. The work also refers to the former “green line” where an abundance of foliage grew because the space was uninhabited. For the sound, el Khalil collaborated with Ray Hage to produce a work inspired by her poem 96% Love 4% Beirut :: Zero :: Śūnya. All the sound for this piece was recorded onsite at Khiam Prison in south Lebanon and at Beit Beirut. All the background textures were created from the artist’s voice, chanting her peace mantras on location.

During the exhibition Zena el Khalil will be leading a peace ceremony for 40 consecutive days, from 5-6 pm, daily. This work is open to public participation and will serve as a platform for participants to actively share in cultivating a culture of peace, compassion, forgiveness and empathy.
On the ground floor, is a workstation for mantra painting. Here, visitors to the exhibition can experience coloring meditation and participate in painting el Khalil’s mantras. They may choose two mantras; one, they can take with them to hang anywhere they choose, the other is left for the artist to be collected and archived.

The workshops and events that will take place during the exhibition, curated by the artist, fall under the umbrella of peace and reconciliation. Believing in the positive impact art can have on society, el Khalil wishes for Beit Beirut to become a space of healing during the 40 days of her exhibition.

Current show at Beit Beirut. From 19 September until 27 October, everyday from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm, Sunday from 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm

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