Scenes from the Green Line: Art and War in Lebanon

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What: Art we have Green Line, and Akram Zaatarari: All is well

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When or: April 14 and March 29, respectively, at the Carleton University Art Gallery

The thin blue line. The thin red line. The green Line. So often “line” and color come together to describe a fine line between violence and victim – between criminals and the public, or between warring armies.

The Green Line seen in two exhibitions at Carleton University Art Gallery divided the city of Beirut during the Lebanese civil wars from 1975 to 1990.

“East Beirut was controlled by Christian parties claiming to fight for the preservation of the Lebanese nation-state against increasing Palestinian militancy,” writes Johnny Alam, the PhD student from Carleton in Lebanon who organized the Art on a Green Line. “West Beirut was controlled by a coalition of Palestinian, left and Muslim parties claiming to fight for the primacy of the Palestinian cause against a hegemonic Christian regime. “

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The Green Line separated two armies, each fighting the other while seeking to position themselves on its side. Nowhere is the line made more viscerally than on Alam’s map of Beirut in the 1920s, shortly after the controversial creation of Lebanon by the League of Nations from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. On Alam’s map, the Green Line runs through town like a surgical scar, with the two sides held together by a thick thread. Beside the map hangs a blanket given to Alam’s family during the war by a humanitarian aid program which was, he writes, co-sponsored by an unidentified king who “supported the enemy factions on the other side. of the Green Line ”.

The exhibit features many artefacts, some real and some fake, so to speak. There are real books that meditate on battles and their aftermath, from Rawi Hage’s De Niro’s Game novel, to Zeina Abirached’s graphic novel A Game For Swallows (subtitle, To Die, To Leave, To Return). You can flip through the books, although the fake articles provide more lasting knowledge to gallery visitors.

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First, there is a rotating postcard display rack, which looks like any you’ve seen in a tourist shop. A closer look reveals that the photos are idyllic scenes of tony boulevards and hotel pools, but marked and distorted, as if they had been burnt. The artists, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, attribute the damage to a fictitious “pyromaniac photographer” (a new species, in my protected experience).

Wonder Beirut: Postcards of War, by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige.  (Courtesy of the artists)
Wonder Beirut: Postcards of War, by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. (Courtesy of the artists)

The postcards attempt to “keep alive the memory of the Lebanese wars”, despite institutional efforts to “idealize Beirut’s past”, say the artists. You can take home a few postcards and maybe mail them to others, becoming part of the artists project.

Visitors can also take Hassan Choubassi’s Beirut Metro Card. The city does not have a metro system, but Choubassi created an official-looking map in a brochure. It reminded me of Simon Patterson’s lithograph The Big Dipper, a map of the London Underground system with all the stops named after saints, philosophers, football stars and other famous people, except that the Choubassi stops are a surreal mix of routes and local history. “Take the E1 line in the direction of Charles Hélou-Port to the end of the line. He survived a landmine that nearly cost him his life. He lost both of his legs in the accident.

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The lower level of the gallery has All is Well, the work of Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari. Zaatari’s videos and photographs are an epistolary package, including letters written by prisoners held in Israel to families back home, and other letters with security details written in lowercase, then swallowed and smuggled out of prison .

A letter was written by a fighter to a family that had been evicted when a resistance group occupied the family home. The fighter, Ali Hashisho, put the letter in a mortar case and buried it in the garden. Twelve years later, Zaatari came to unearth the letter, in which Hasisho had justified the occupation of the group and welcomed the family home. “We have done our best to protect the olive trees, but as you can see chaos reigns.”

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The excavation is documented in a split-screen video, with background audio from Hashisho, and intermittent interjections by police and security guards who were required on site, and who had encouraged Zaatari to abandon the project. That the diggers find the note is incidental. The point is that years after the wars have ended, their effects are still deeply ingrained in the daily life of the city.

More French prints

If the Gustave Doré exhibition at the National Gallery last summer whetted your appetite or old French prints, you’re in luck. Making and Marketing Art History in 18th-Century France includes books and prints that were donated and curated for this exhibition by W. McAllister Johnson. The images take into account the “vital roles of engravers in the careers of artists and the fame of particular works of art”. The exhibition continues until April 14.

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