Play depicts Lebanon as building at risk of collapse

Georges Khabbaz, writer, actor and director, performs in the play in Zalka region, east of Beirut, Lebanon Nov. 23, 2018. (Reuters/Jamal Saidi)
Updated 29 November 2018
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Play depicts Lebanon as building at risk of collapse

  • The play "Only If" is intended to portray the country's problems while urging its people to love each other
  • The play comes to the stage at a time when political parties have failed to agree on a new coalition government

BEIRUT: The squabbling residents of a dilapidated building at risk of collapse serve as an allegory for Lebanon's political and religious divisions in a new drama by satirical playwright Georges Khabbaz.
The play "Only If" is intended to portray the country's problems while urging its people to love each other, said Khabbaz, who wrote and directed it as well as acting in it.
"The play talks about a lot of contradictions and struggles in our Lebanese societies, about the sectarian conflicts, the system's conflicts," he said.
Lebanon's 1970-1990 civil war splintered the country along sectarian lines and opened fissures within its Christian and Muslim communities. It still shapes Lebanon's politics.
The play comes to the stage at a time when political parties have failed to agree on a new coalition government more than six months since an election despite pressing economic problems.
"Lebanese people love life and place the will to live above all consideration, but at the same time circumstances come against them - security, economical etcetera," Khabbaz said.
The recent bout of political paralysis has prompted fears of economic crisis. Politicians have cited the urgent need for a government to be formed but have been unable to clinch a final deal.
In Khabbaz's play, the building's inhabitants cannot agree on how to save it.
At one point, it satirises foreign influence in Lebanon with a man trying to buy the building, his efforts supported or opposed in turn by shifting groups among the residents.
"There is nothing else to talk about in Lebanon than these subjects. There is nothing that unites us other than we all love similar things, love to have fun, we love to progress," said Maria Jazra, a pharmacist who was in the audience for a recent performance.
"But unfortunately, in our heads we are still not programmed for progress," she said.


Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s first solo US show set to open

Farah Al-Qasimi’s ‘Living Room Vape’ (2017). (Supplied)
Updated 16 July 2019
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Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s first solo US show set to open

DUBAI: Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s first solo exhibition at a US institution is set to open on July 30 at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Working in photography, video, and performance, Al-Qasimi’s work explores themes of gender, nationality and class. Her photographs subvert ingrained expectations of how images are constructed and understood and she is known for borrowing conventions from various sources, including documentary photography and Renaissance paintings.

Um Al Naar (Mother of Fire) (still), 2019. (Supplied)

Camouflage and concealment play a central role in the artist’s work. In a recent series of portraits, Al-Qasimi obscures the faces of her subjects while capturing intimate images, despite the lack of a clear, engaging face. Various compositional strategies hide identifying features — behind plumes of smoke, a well-placed hand, or sumptuously patterned textiles and drapery — while she still manages to accentuate the opulent interiors her subjects inhabit.

Alongside a group of recent photographs, the exhibition will include a screening of Al-Qasimi’s new film, “Um Al Naar (Mother of Fire)” (2019), which was recently unveiled at Art Basel Statements.

M Napping on Carpet, 2016. (Supplied)

The 40-minute video is structured like a television documentary following a jinn — a ghost-like entity in Islamic tradition. Delivering a confessional, reality TV-style monologue, the jinn appears on camera beneath a patterned sheet. The video interweaves her thoughts on centuries of Portuguese and British colonial meddling in the modern-day emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah in the UAE. The video also explores the influence of the European presence in the region and the use of Euro-centric practices for the display of historical artifacts.

Curated by Henriette Huldisch, the director of exhibitions at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, the exhibition marks the first time Al-Qasimi’s work has been shown in a solo exhibition in the US — it is set to wrap up on Oct. 20.  

The artist lives and works between New York and Dubai and has seen her work exhibited in The Third Line gallery in Dubai, Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai and the San Francisco Arts Commission, among other locations.

Al-Qasimi received her MFA from the Yale School of Art and has participated in residencies at the Delfina Foundation in London; the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine; and is a recipient of the New York NADA Artadia Prize and the Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship.