In an exhibition at the Saleh Barakat Gallery in Beirut, Lebanese artist Katya Traboulsi celebrates cultural diversity while highlighting the way that fear of difference drives a never-ending cycle of conflict.
In Katya Traboulsi’s exhibition “Perpetual Identities,” each bombshell represents a different country, Beirut, Lebanon. Posted March 9, 2018.
“When you have kids, you live in constant fear of the future,” says Katya Traboulsi, seated in the spacious underground exhibition hall of the Saleh Barakat Gallery in Beirut. Behind her are 47 sculptures. Each is made from different materials and decorated in a unique style, but all of them share the same basic shape: They are modeled on the bombshells that razed swaths of Beirut’s urban fabric to the ground during the horrific civil war that formed the backdrop to Traboulsi’s teenage years.
“Since the First World War, the Second World War and what’s happening now [in Syria], we’re not learning,” Traboulsi laments. “We need to be at war. We need to destroy the other. Why? We’re all the same. We all have blood and bodies and fear and emotions. It’s just physical appearance and geography that create different identities.”
Geography, borders and nationalism are at the heart of Traboulsi’s exhibition. Titled “Perpetual Identities,” it explores the relationship between conflict, culture and identity. Each of the 47 sculptures on show is designed to represent the culture of a different country, highlighting the value of cultural identity while also serving as a warning about the dangers of nationalism and fear of “the other.”
The artist was spurred to begin work on the project, which has taken almost four years from conception to exhibition, by the ongoing conflict in Syria, which caused her to question whether human beings are capable of living in peace.
“We have beautiful identities that I’m celebrating to show that we can enrich each other instead of destroying each other. The object of destruction that I grew up with becomes an object of life, of history, of art,” she says.
Traboulsi selected 46 countries to represent, spanning five continents. Lebanon, exceptionally, is represented twice. One sculpture is made of carved cedar wood and features a motif of men in rowing boats, inspired by the seafaring Phoenicians who established settlements in Byblos, Tyre and Sidon more than 3,000 years ago. The second is covered with a colorful collage made up of the logos of the 18 Lebanese political parties in the wake of the civil war.
“Lebanon was a very difficult piece to execute because I didn’t know what our identity really is today,” Traboulsi says. “I was asking Lebanese people around me, ‘What is our identity?’ and they were all looking at me with empty eyes: ‘Err … tabbouleh? Hummus?’ [We have] no identity really, because of the war. … We are defined by the war, outside and inside. It’s been 30 years since the war and we still talk about it.”
She has also defined several other countries by a history of conflict. Her Palestine sculpture is covered with metal keys, representing the house keys often passed down from one generation to the next among refugee families who fled Palestine in 1948 and were never able to return home. For Germany, meanwhile, Traboulsi chose to ring the central bomb shape with sections of concrete, covered with graffiti and topped with barbed wire, to represent the Berlin Wall. Unlike the Palestinian piece, which tells the story of a conflict without resolution, the German piece evokes the moment the wall came down, an enduring symbol of triumph and reunion.
Other pieces are more light-hearted. Traboulsi’s evocation of America is a collage made of fragments of pop art, dollar bills, and iconic comic book and Disney characters from Batman to Mickey Mouse. “America is a new country. How do I know America? I know it for the pop art, for the music, for the lightness of this fun, plastic side. The American dream,” she says.
One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition, however, is how many of the sculptures are rooted in cultures that preceded the existence of the modern nation-state they have come to represent.
For Mexico and Peru, Traboulsi chose to focus on ancient civilizations, representing Mexico through a wooden sculpture inspired by Mayan artwork dating back to the 10th century B.C. and Peru through another carved wooden piece based on huaco, pottery crafted by the ancient Huari, Nazca and Moche people in the first millennium. The extent to which any modern nation can claim ownership of ancient cultures is one of the interesting questions raised by the show.
Clashes of culture are also evoked in her choice to represent Canada through a painted wooden totem inspired by indigenous Canadian culture and Australia through Aboriginal dot painting. By choosing to highlight identities under threat, she draws attention to the damage done by colonialism and the tendency of nation-states to prioritize internal homogeny, threatening minority cultural practices.
The traditional cultural practices used to represent the Arab states — intricate metalwork for Morocco, wood inlaid with glimmering mother-of-pearl for Syria, painted ceramics for Tunisia — each belongs to a region that does not correspond to modern borders, the result of the carving up of colonial empires. For Nigeria, she has created an intricate beadwork sculpture of a bird — the Yoruba emblem of the king’s role as intermediary between his subjects and the gods — honoring a culture that spans three modern nations.
Traboulsi doesn’t appear to have made these choices as a conscious commentary on colonial legacies or the ideology and politics of the modern nation-state, explaining that her aim is not to dwell on the past but to highlight the risk of further conflict in the future. But she is very aware that the concept of cultural identity is a double-edged sword. “It can be a wonderful thing,” she says. “But without borders, I believe that it would have been a source of enrichment more than separation.”
“Perpetual Identities” is a complex exhibition that raises many questions about culture and ownership, belonging, nationhood and conflict. In celebrating the cultural heritage that is so often a casualty of war, Traboulsi underscores the value of individuality while at the same time raising questions about the dangers of national identity, which leverages culture to engineer a sense of belonging that excludes outsiders, fostering enmity and division.
Traboulsi’s sculptures tell a story of creativity and destruction going back centuries, conjuring the ghosts of civilizations that rose only to fall, leaving nothing behind but artifacts and ruins. At the same time, they celebrate the sheer beauty to be found in diversity, highlighting the importance of fostering cultural exchange rather than conflict.
Menachem Begin in December 1942 wearing the Polish Army uniform of Gen. Anders’ forces with his wife Aliza and David Yutan; (back row) Moshe Stein and Israel Epstein
(photo credit: JABOTINSKY ARCHIVES)
During the inauguration of a memorial to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park on January 24, 2020, before the climax of Holocaust remembrance events at which Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a central platform, we were stunned to hear a rendition of The Blue Kerchief (Siniy
Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015
The annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium, is expected to take place on Sunday with even more antisemitic elements than in previous years.
Aalst’s organizers have sold hundreds of “rabbi kits” for revelers to dress as hassidic Jews in the carnival’s parade. The kit includes oversized noses, sidelocks (peyot) and black hats. The organizers plan to bring back floats similar to the one displayed in 2019 featuring oversized dolls of Jews, with rats on their shoulders, holding banknotes.
Pope Francis waves as he arrives at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari, Italy February 23, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli.
Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal.
Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Palestinians walk past a shop selling fruits in Ramallah, Feb. 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have reached an agreement to end a five-month long trade dispute, officials said on Thursday.
The dispute, which opened a new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, began in September when the PA announced a boycott of Israel calves. The PA exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals.
Antisemitic caricatures on display at the annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Photo: Raphael Ahren via Twitter.
Disturbing images emerged on Sunday of the annual carnival at Aalst, Belgium, showing an astounding number of antisemitic themes, costumes, displays and statements.
Israeli journalist Raphael Ahren documented people dressed as caricatures of Orthodox Jews, a fake “wailing wall” attacking critics of the parade, blatantly antisemitic characters and puppets wearing traditional Jewish clothes and sporting huge noses.
Feb 02, 2020 0The remarks from the US official came in wake of the Palestinian decision to reject the administration’s peace plan. US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive to...
The stench of anti-Semitism always hovers over Switzerland’s Lake Geneva when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is meeting there. The foul emanations reached a new nadir last week with UNHRC’s publication of a “database” of companies doing business in the disputed territories in Israel.
Following the publication of the list, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy director for advocacy of NGO Human Rights Watch, stated, “The long-awaited release of the U.N. settlement business database should put all companies on notice: To do business with illegal settlements [sic] is to aid in the commission of war crimes.”
One of the many things that annoys me about politicians is how sure they are of themselves. Everything is black and white. Every idea is good or bad. Take globalism, for example. You either love it or hate it. It works or it doesn’t.
Another thing that annoys me is how so much of a politician’s life revolves around power: Do everything you can to get it, and everything you can to keep it.
Why am I ranting? Because, while our politicians have been consumed with power and the media with the fights over power, a threat to our nation has been virtually ignored.
Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are establishing their diplomatic credentials in the immediate run-up to Israel’s March 2 election with an insult to a U.S. administration that has arguably provided Israel with more diplomatic gains than any previous administration.
The Times of Israel reported that at a campaign stop in front of English-speaking Israelis, Gantz accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “of neglecting bipartisan ties in favor of exclusive support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” under the headline “Gantz pledges to mend ties with U.S. Democrats if elected.”
Bipartisanship was in short supply at the State of the Union address earlier this month—with one notable exception.
Nancy Pelosi had been looking dyspeptic, shuffling the papers she would later rip to shreds, when President Donald Trump reminded his audience that “the United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.”
Suddenly, the House Speaker applauded. Trump then introduced “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela: Juan Guaidó.”
The law professor Alan Dershowitz has thrown a legal hand-grenade into America’s political civil war by claiming to have evidence that former President Barack Obama “personally asked” the FBI to investigate someone “on behalf” of Obama’s “close ally,” billionaire financier George Soros.
He made his cryptic remark in an interview defending U.S. President Donald Trump against claims he interfered in the prosecution of his former adviser, Roger Stone.