The Scarp Is Where We're At | وصلنا على الهاويه
Exhibition Dates: 6 August - 3 September 2021
Curator: Mishelle Brito
Artists: Danielle Andrea Krikorian & Ayeesha Starkey
Today (20th July, 2021), 1 USD is equivalent to 23,000 Lebanese Pounds. In February 2020, 1 USD was 1.500 Lebanese Pounds. By the time this past sentence is read, the value of the Lebanese pound will have declined. The ecopolitical climate has been ever evolving and unstable because of the corruption of the oligarchic ruling class.
In 2019, the 17th October Revolution emerged to fight a perpetual and declining state of political and economic crisis. The pandemic was a catalyst for the whole world to come to a halt. For Lebanon, the pandemic was a setback in a sea of difficulties.
Indeed, the 4th of August, the Beirut Blast, was a symptom of the complexity and failure of the Lebanese government’s corruption. As the crisis deepens and morphs, new challenges arise daily. Countless lives, businesses and public spaces have been lost. Lebanon is constantly on the brink, on the edge, at the scarp.
Therefore, the title of this exhibition is inspired by this feeling and originates from the arabic proverb “وصلنا على الهاويه”, which translates into The Scarp Is Where We're At.
Yet, the exhibition functions not as an overview of the declining ecopolitical situation, which it cannot and will not do, but as a window into the artists’ personal intimate experience with their country. Through “Neon Lit Skies - Fire at the Port” by Ayeesha Starkey and “Forbidden Dream” by Danielle Andrea Krikorian, the artists explore their complex relationship with home and their understanding of art as an agent of expression.
Through fear, love, hate, loss and artistic exploration, The Scarp Is Where We're At | وصلنا على الهاويه is an ode to memory and hope.
About the Projects
Forbidden Dream | Danielle Andrea Krikorian
”يا لبنان، هل حبي لك لا يعرف حدود؟” [Oh Lebanon, does my love for you hold no bounds?]
The past two years in Lebanon have been filled with outrage, loss, struggle and disillusionment. The ongoing economic and political crisis, the oligarchy, the 4th of August blast and the rising socio-geographical tensions have manifested themselves as symptoms of a diseased system that is holding its citizens hostage and trapped. It is in this perspective that I conceived "Forbidden Dream حلم ممنوع" as an interactive digital collage landscape poem.
The artwork documents my journey of love and disappointment in the homeland. It tackles notions of memory and yearning for a past that has disappeared and the future of Lebanon without corruption. The attachment to the land is another central point with specific memories from my childhood and early adulthood emerging before and after 2019. The places and spaces I lived in, saw, played in, grew-up in and cherished. The land is the root of this love. Yet, it becomes clear that Lebanon is decomposing. Both country and land are violated by the oligarchs, who make their people suffer in their own homes. The promises made of reconstruction and perseverance have been broken. The state that governs is failing and falling.
The collages are made from watercolour on paper and pictures that I took in different cities and villages, such as "Beit Chabeb" (my village of origin), "Dhour El Choeir," "Beirut" (where my family home is located) and "Zarrour" amongst others. They are in essence the memory of my experiences of joy and sadness throughout my country. Through the interactive channel, I hope that the work will provide an intimate engagement between the viewer and the textual /pictorial landscape. The architecture is non-linear mirroring life, with its unexpected turns, and its challenges. The paths that are taken are never clear, and the world we know might change at any moment. No notice is given.
The Arabic and the English texts differ slightly as the languages are different and have their own individuality, which the author wanted to preserve. Some things are lost and gained in translation. The text and the images are not separate, rather, they are interwoven layers, autonomous and yet part of the totality. The themes are, love, loss, dream, translations, memory and ultimately: hope.
Neon Lit Skies - Fire at the Port | Ayeesha Starkey
A month after the August 4th, 2020 explosion, a fire started at the port which triggered instantaneous trauma and anxiety for most of Beirut's population. After things calmed down, I chose to walk down to the port in order to take a few pictures. People were triggered, my friends and family had been calling me, and texting me to make sure I was alright, and it resulted in the phone running out of battery not 10 minutes after I had arrived. I opened my laptop and plugged in the phone charging cable, but it took way too long so instead, I used my laptop’s camera with the thermal effect to take more pictures. The dark cloud of ash filling the sky turned into neon colours that made the scene somewhat more bearable. A crimson red sky bothered by miscellaneous yellow, and green smoke with seeping hints of turquoise.
Thermal cameras detect temperature by recognizing and capturing different levels of infrared light. The temperatures of the bodies present in the photo collided with the surrounding objects and buildings, separating them from the intruder in the image, the port and the smoke, or the grain silos, that the lens deemed a different alien element. Witnessing this view of the port on fire, taken through the laptop’s thermal effect, resulted in images that seemed less emotional, less personal to me, and these images helped me distance myself from the trauma that is so interconnected with the realistic images of the port blast that are being circulated in the media.
I’m livid that I can’t grow in a space that’s molding over me instead of around me. Because I am exhausted, I have become more solemn than angry. Solemn because the consequences of unforgivable neglect have led to our tactical surroundings to no longer exist. Physical spaces that remind us of emotional spaces that we now need to carry, without support, without infrastructure, and without an end in sight. When the physical space causes you pain, harm, and trauma you forget about the fond experiences that come with them as well. This pattern of trauma is an intrusive act that has taken physical and emotional space. A space presented here as purgatory in neon.
About the Artists
Danielle Andrea Krikorian studied Studio Art and Art History at the American University of Beirut (AUB-2018). Krikorian completed an MA in Art History from the University College London (UCL-2021). She has worked as an archival researcher, art critic and curatorial intern in France, London and Lebanon. Her articles have been published in TheDailyStar (Lebanon) and in The Radical Art Review (UK). They delve into art and the socio-geographical impact of culture. She is currently an art gallery manager in Beirut. Her artworks have been exhibited at CUB Gallery (Beirut) and at the 2018 Beirut Art Fair. Her practice engages with the visualisation of trauma, memory and the androgynous body.
Ayeesha Starkey is a filmmaker, content creator, and video editor. She is a graduate of theAmerican University of Beirut with a BA in Media and Communications. Her experience revolves around working on shorts, features, and serving as a fixer, especially during theLebanese revolution in 2019. She loves mixing media and mediums ranging from collages with watercolours to creating and branding fake products. She recently wrote and directed a fashion film, Benzine, that approaches Lebanon’s heated political and economic climate in a satirical manner. Currently she is a freelance video editor and works with Balkoon as a content creator. She aspires to further explore the medium of fashion film and move away from the aesthetic appeal to portraying clothes as part of the narratives that capture individual and social changes.
reACT is an innovative program, established by P21 Gallery to promote and support emerging and student artists whose work is dedicated to or inspired by the Middle East & Arab world by providing a space within the P21 Gallery and/or P21 Gallery website for an artistic intervention. reACT aims to contribute in building and strengthening cultural ties and dialogues between the East and West on terms designed by a younger generation.
Mishelle Brito is a London based artistic programmer and curator working to create dialogues relating to societal concerns in the Middle East through art, culture and creative based methods.
P21 is an independent London-based charitable trust established to promote contemporary Middle Eastern and Arab art and culture.
For further information, press images and interview opportunities, please contact reACT Programme Manager & Curator, Mishelle Brito at: reACT@p21.org.uk
The exhibition is a reACT project and supported by the Art Council England and HUB Collective.