Lara Atallah: Moments of Emotion

Updated 14 June 2012
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Lara Atallah: Moments of Emotion

Ayyam Gallery in Beirut is showing until June 20 the ‘Abandoned School Series’ by the exceptionally talented Lebanese photographer, Lara Atallah, which won second place at the 2011 Shabab Ayyam Photography Competition in Dubai.
Ayyam Gallery with its outlets in Syria, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, is one of the most prominent galleries in the Middle East representing some of today’s emerging and established Arab artists.
Speaking about the exhibition entitled, “If Walls could Talk”, Atallah says that her aim is to tackle the issue, “the photography is a means not an end”. And that is precisely why “photography is a fine art, a medium of expression which permits one person to convey to another an abstract idea of a lofty emotion”.
Photographs can indeed represent abstract ideas despite the fact that the camera only captures the concrete reality. By choosing how to reveal or hide parts of a subject, Atallah expresses her thoughts. Through this subtractive process of selection, a photographer creates an atmosphere by choosing exactly how subjects are placed and how they interact with each other.
Atallah was born in Beirut in 1989 and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from the American University in Beirut. Since her graduation, her work has reflected her concern for social issues. She has been using different media from podcasts to writing and photography. She has lately expanded her work with a series of photographs recording everything from street vendors to construction sites, with the aim to capture the complex layers of Beirut life.
“If Walls Could Talk” features a series of 12 photographs taken within an abandoned public school on Bliss Street in Beirut. These pictures far from creating a sense of emptiness, loneliness and neglect bring to mind the happy memories of the school brimming with life. The walls, a blackboard with words still written on it, discarded desks and chairs, the majestic wooden staircase, all tell the stories, they have witnessed without the need for words.
These visual compositions not only record the past but they also help us understand more about ourselves and our life in this world. Atallah focuses on two social problems: Gentrification and modernization.
Gentrification refers to that silent, unobtrusive pressure which surreptitiously alters a landscape and its social history and pushes families out of their homes. When Atallah photographs the stunning wooden staircase with its intricate iron wrought work, she not only shows the loss of the city’s architectural heritage but also the loss of basic necessities such as a public school.
Modernization erases the soul of a place and this exhibition “If Walls Could Talk” highlights the social and economical costs of demolishing old schools, old shops and old houses.
This awesome series of photographs has been meticulously composed. Atallah has judiciously used color, the playful contrast of light and shade, as well as lines and shape, depth and unity, to create a stunning work of art.  
Here is a strong young artist who has something to say. Her photographs are not only aesthetically pleasing but they also tell a story.

— For more information, visit: www.ayyamgallery.com
 


Film Review: ‘Beauty and the Dogs’ takes hard look at an unfeeling society

Updated 20 October 2018
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Film Review: ‘Beauty and the Dogs’ takes hard look at an unfeeling society

CHENNAI: A brutal title, “Beauty and the Dogs” is an electric French-Tunisian drama by Kaouther Ben Hania (“Imams Go to School,” “Zaineb Hates the Snow”), which has been entered as Tunisia’s submission for the best foreign-language film at the 2019 Academy Awards. Although the film is yet to earn a nomination, it is a powerful piece of cinema that deserves recognition.
Based on a real-life incident in 2012, the movie begins at sunset and ends at sunrise and zooms in on a woman traumatized by an unfeeling society. A rather weak script, but bolstered by a strong, moving story mounted on lovely long takes, Hania’s creation is an unflinching look at how a young woman who is raped by a policeman fights a degenerate system.

Hania does not sensationalize and focuses on the aftermath of the horrifying incident when her protagonist, Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani), doggedly pursues the villainous cop, who has all the muscle power and support of his superiors. They try every trick to derail Mariam’s grit and determination.

The movie begins on a note of fun with Mariam attending a college party at a Tunis disco. After a mild flirtation with Youssef (Ghanem Zrelli), the two go for a walk on the beach, where she is raped. We only see Mariam running with Youssef at her heels, and we get a feeling that he is chasing her. But no, she is running away in desperation.

“Beauty and the Dogs” is a hard critique of an unfeeling society. Even a woman police officer that Mariam approaches is uncaring and, worse, throws her back into the den of dogs, so to speak. Earlier, a female attendant at a clinic where Mariam goes for a mandatory physical examination seems contemptuous. The film is littered with points of horrific humiliation for Mariam, something which leads to audience sympathy staying unwaveringly strong.
The film is especially important in the current #MeToo climate, where an international discussion on sexual harassment and rape is taking place from Hollywood to Bollywood but has yet to shake up the Middle East.