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Visual Arts in Lebanon

As in almost all other fields, the civil war (1975-1990) is very much present in the works of many Lebanese artists.

Together with other artists, Walid Raad, whose work has been exhibited at the Documenta in Kassel, Germany, among other places, created The Archives of the Atlas Group (1989-2004), in which these artists documented or represented the civil war in many different ways. One of Raad’s best known works in this respect is My neck is thinner than a hair, which contains 245 photographs of all the car bomb attacks during the war. Let’s be honest, the weather helped is what Raad calls a ‘notebook’ with photographs and drawings of shrapnel he collected, thus documenting, as he realized years later, all the 23 countries that had armed or sold ammunitions to the various factions fighting one another.

Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas are photographers and make videos and installations such as Beirut: Urban Fictions, Wonder Beirut, or Distracted Bullets. In these works, they try to represent what they call the people’s amnesia concerning the civil war.

In his performance Who’s afraid of representation?, Rabih Mroué wants to blur the line between what was and what could have been. Zena al-Khalil creates collages combining sweet, kitsch-like images with, for instance, that of a child carrying a Kalashnikov. Nadim Karam makes monumental sculptures representing dreamed creatures, pleasant or terrifying, or a combination of both. Alfred Tarazi paints nightmares: terrified, deformed heads or a lonely figure stared at by surrounding human shapes.

Much more direct and explicit are the works of a group of painters in the Palestinian refugee camp Beddawi, in the north of Lebanon. The canvases or murals of the majority of these artists – such as Nizar Abu Ayid, Yusuf Shams, Burhan Hussein Suleiman – are clearly politically engaged, showing armed militants, boys throwing stones, the Palestinian flag or the victims of Israeli bombs. Some of these works were commissioned by Hezbollah.

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