An actor, theatre director, playwright and visual artist, Rabih Mroué belongs to the generation of Lebanese artists that came to prominence in the decade after the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990. Beginning in April 2, SALT is presenting a one-person exhibition of Mroué’s works, ranging from his early videos to components from his much-lauded, multi-layered work about the conflict in Syria, The Pixelated Revolution, from 2012.
Exhibition at SALT: Rabih Mroué
April 2-July 27
SALT Galata and SALT Beyoğlu
An actor, theatre director, playwright and visual artist, Rabih Mroué belongs to the generation of Lebanese artists that came to prominence in the decade after the official end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990. Rooted in the firsthand experience of political unrest and social upheaval still present in Lebanon today, Mroué’s work questions, problematizes, and examines the use of images, the mechanisms of storytelling and the construction of historical and personal narratives.
Informed by his background in theatre, Mroué’s works operate between fact and fiction, investigating the role and position of the individual, especially that of the artist within society in times of conflict, crisis, historical changes and their reverberations in the present. His works register and analyze the effects of war, ongoing conflicts in the region, social and political implications of images and representation at large as the foremost agent in the formation of identity and the writing of history.
The exhibition is spread across SALT Galata and SALT Beyoğlu. While the works at SALT Galata are related to or based on personal experiences of the artist, and loosely follow a suggested life-cycle, the works that address social discontent, political demonstrations, and social uprisings are presented at SALT Beyoğlu.
The first work to be confronted at SALT Galata, Old House (2003) establishes Mroué’s strength in analyzing various forms of control and suppression, and their reversal as his artistic strategy. After the Lebanese Civil War officially ended in 1990, the promulgation of a general amnesty law that pardoned all crimes committed before March 1991, rendering the act of “forgetting the past” an official national policy. The artist’s rumination on forgetting and remembering is followed by the video Face A/Face B (2002) and the installation Grandfather, Father, and Son (2010), in which the artist and his family’s firsthand experience of the civil war and its tragedy are interspersed with moments of quotidian domestic life, oscillating between the mundane and the extraordinary. In I, the Undersigned (2007) Mroué presents a public apology for what he had committed during the civil war, highlighting, by this simple gesture, the lack of any apology from those responsible for the war, many of whom are still today in positions of power. Don’t Spread Your Legs (2011) features Mroué recounting an act of censorship, in the process exposing the fragility and irrationality of a government and its failure in resolving social tensions caused by sectarian divisions in the country. Catherine Deneuve calling out the artist’s name while walking against the backdrop of bullet-riddled buildings and rubble in the installation Je Veux Voir (2011) as well as the video Noiseless (2006-2008), featuring the artist’s collection of newspaper clippings portraying himself as a missing person, recall the practice of “enforced disappearance,” systematically used during the civil war, and which continued during the periods of occupation by Israel (1982-2000) and the 15 years of Syrian military presence that ended in 2005. Alluding to the fate of the more than 17,000 people still missing is the video installation The Mediterranean Sea (2011), which ends the suggested life-cycle.
The other half of the exhibition, presented on the first floor of SALT Beyoğlu, is composed in direct reference to the building’s location on İstiklal Caddesi, a street used often for demonstrations and leading to Taksim Square, a site of political rallies and mass protest. The display begins with People are Demanding (2011), which comprises the phrase in Arabic “Ash sha’ab yurid…” —the first half of a slogan that was first used in Tunis during the uprisings and later became a popular chant at Cairo’s Tahrir Square as well as in Beirut and Syria with alterations, in spray paint—followed by a list of seemingly ordinary verbs, instead of the rest of the phrase commonly used during the protests, “…bring down the regime.” This is followed by Mroué’s video With Soul With Blood (2003-2006), in which the artist ruminates about being part of a crowd while struggling to remain an individual during one of the demonstrations following the still-unsolved 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri’s car-bomb killing lead to huge pro- and anti-Syria rallies in Beirut, which triggered the fall of the government and the withdrawal of the Syrian military. Today, the civil war in Syria has spilled over to Lebanon, and there is a massive influx of Syrian refugees in the country, making up nearly one seventh of the population. Eye vs. Eye (2012), Double Shooting (2012) and the first part of The Fall of a Hair (2012) are all components of Mroué’s much-lauded work about the conflict in Syria, The Pixelated Revolution (2012), which examines the dissemination of amateur war footage on video-sharing websites and the multi-layered associations between shooting with a gun and shooting with a camera.
Taking the concrete political and cultural circumstances of Lebanon as his point of departure, the questions that Rabih Mroué raises through his videos, installations, performances and non-academic lectures have much wider resonance—particularly in this time of regional strife and political turmoil, geographical entanglements that inevitably have also involved neighboring Turkey—and his works, like the conflicts he addresses, have garnered attention from around the world.
A version of this exhibition, entitled Rabih Mroué. Image(s), Mon Amour at CA2M was curated by Aurora Fernández Polanco; the presentation at SALT is closely based on this exhibition, with slight alterations for İstanbul. The exhibition at SALT is spread across SALT Galata floor -1 and SALT Beyoğlu floor 1.
In collaboration with CA2M (Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Comunidad de Madrid)
Rabih Mroué (born 1967) works and lives in Beirut. His solo exhibition organized by BAK basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht in 2010 traveled to Iniva, London; Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart and tranzitdisplay, Prague. Recent exhibitions include: dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, 2012; Performa 09, New York, 2009; 11th International Istanbul Biennial, İstanbul, 2009; Tarjama/Translation, Queens Museum of Art, New York, 2009; Manifesta 8, Murcia, 2009; Soft Manipulation – Who is afraid of the new now?, Casino Luxembourg, Luxembourg, 2008; Medium Religion, Center for Art and Media (ZKM), Karlsruhe, 2008 and the Sydney Biennale in 2006.
In 2011, Mroué was awarded a Prince Claus Award, and in 2010 an artist grant for Theatre/Performance Arts from the Foundation of Contemporary Arts, New York as well as the Spalding Gray Award. He is a contributing editor of the quarterly Kalamon and The Drama Review as well as a co-founder and board member of the Beirut Art Center, Beirut. The artist is currently on an “Interweaving Performance Cultures” fellowship at Freie Universität, Berlin.
On Wednesday, May 7 at 19.00, Rabih Mroué will present the non-academic lecture The Pixelated Revolution at SALT Galata.
Parallel to the exhibition, film and documentary screenings that aim to broaden the issues addressed by the artist in his work will be organized in the Walk-in Cinema at SALT Beyoğlu, please check saltonline.org for the program.