La Maison de Borj - Territory

6 Mei/ Mai/May 14:00 - 00:00
7-27 Mei/Mai/May: van woensdag tot zondag/du mercredi au dimanche/Wednesday to Sunday 11:00 - 19:00

Born in Beirut, Amal Saade was six when the war in the Lebanon flared up. Her family became nomads, moving constantly to escape the ever-expanding conflict and ending up in Rio where Amal studied art before going to Paris, then to her own country. "My battered country is still enduring a twofold occupation. I can't ignore this reality. So I talk about it, using my own story in my work." Moving on to installations, this young woman is coming to Brussels with a luminous, vibrant - and political - piece. In it, she reveals with sensitivity her view on being torn from the places she loves.

Video met de steun van/Vidéo avec l'aide de/Video with the support of: Service Nouveaux Médias et Service Audiovisuel du Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris)

Presentatie/Présentation/Presentation: KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

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An empty space is inhabited by hubbub from outside in the street. Its four internal walls bring to life the external façades of a house in West Beirut - La Maison de Borj (The House of Borj) has given up its inside to the outside. Outside this space, Territory is a symbolic representation of an actual room in the house. It contains a bed made of earth and, not far from the bed, a mound of the same brown soil, rich and fertile. From the ceiling hang women's clothes, sun-yellow and woven in the traditional way. On the walls are two pages from Al Nahar, the Lebanese daily newspaper, dated 2 November 1998, headlined Lebanese soil stolen by Israel. They tell of Israeli tractors digging up and taking away tons of rich soil from southern Lebanon to fertilise citrus fruit plantations in the kibbutzim near the border. "I was really shocked when I found this out. It's as if this literal theft of soil suddenly embodied the Israeli occupation - violently and absurdly."

This installation is by Amal Saade, a young Lebanese artist born into a Christian family in Beirut in 1969 and forced to live in exile in Brazil during the war before settling in Paris. Today she lives between France and the Lebanon. Her work reflects her life and tells the story of her country.

Amal Saade was six when civil war broke out in 1975. She lived with her family in the light-filled house built by her great-grandfather in a quiet residential district in the southern Beirut suburb of Laylaké, close to fields and olive groves. Christians and Muslims lived there together peacefully. The Saade family invited Ali, their gardener, to come with his wife and children and live on the ground floor when their Palestinian camp became too vulnerable. In 1975 the powder keg that was Beirut ignited. Battles raged between Christian phalanxes and Palestinian, Muslim and Druze militia. The Saades frequently had to leave their home and constantly travelled between Beirut and Rio where they stayed with relatives.

In 1982, Israel invaded the Lebanon, inflaming the murderous conflict and contributing to further destruction and bloodshed for a decade. Deeply attached to their country, the family still came back to Beirut but could no longer return to their house. They moved around the country, fleeing from the shelling. When the conflict ended, a family from Baalbek was living in their home in Laylaké. Members of Hezbollah, they wanted somewhere to live in the capital. The only group allowed to keep their weapons since the end of the war, the Hezbollah is the party of God, the only resistance force against Israel. Anyone who publicly criticises one of its members is automatically accused of being pro-Israeli. The end of the war officially divided Beirut into East Beirut - Christian - and West Beirut - Muslim. The small suburb in the south where this Christian family lived is now part of West Beirut. A law was passed granting refugees the right to go back to their houses and ordering temporary occupants to give up belongings that are not theirs. However, the house in Laylaké remains occupied. Unable to go inside, Amal decided to film each external wall for two hours. This exterior has become the new interior of La Maison de Borj, the video part of her installation.

"Things happening now in the post-war period are very murky. The Lebanese want to forget the horrors they have seen and are cultivating a kind of widespread amnesia. The capital's hectic nightlife makes me think of the mad years of 1920s Europe when people were frantically enjoying themselves, recapturing their lost youth. But nothing has been resolved; the conflicts are still there, intensifying even. The differences between Christians and Muslims still exist, aggravated by the increase in population and the gulf between the newly rich and the poor. The Lebanon was known for being a trading nation. Now it is in the grip of an anarchic and savage capitalism blinded by materialism. But the reality of it hasn't changed one iota. This battered country is enduring a twofold occupation - by Israel in the south and by Syria everywhere else. Lots of people want to ignore this reality. I can't. So I talk about it, using my own story in my work."

In 1987, at the age of 18, Amal left school and decided to go back to Rio on her own. She studied industrial design there and went to the spacious studios of the Parque Lage School of Visual Arts. Brazil was reaping the fruit of the big explosion in painting in the 1980s. Going against the general trend of academicism, the schools there are a place where students can paint freely and the tutors are artists of colour and large formats who go to the studios to give the students encouragement. "I have been painting since I was 11. Art was a way for me to express my incomprehension at the world. My grandmother, Nazlé Matta Saadé, to whom I was very close, had died. The clothes exhibited in my installation are the clothes from her trousseau that she had embroidered over a number of years - they are like a fragment of memory. After Rio, I went to Paris to study at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Art) in 1993. I met up with Lebanese friends there and heard about what had been going on at home. It brought Beirut close to me again. I started going back there, wanting to talk about everything I had suppressed.

I modelled objects, filmed videos and created computer graphics. I gave up painting for three-dimensionality. With the war over, less spectacular events in the Lebanon no longer made the news. But a war doesn't go away just like that. I wanted to confront the present with all its unresolved contradictions. I wanted to confront the reality of my city whose urban face was changing at a lightning speed. I began to walk around it, photographing it. My first installation was inspired by the large posters that boasted of the ambitious reconstruction project for the new city. I wanted to provide a contrast to these architects' models by suspending Perspex spheres from the ceiling containing photos of the city's dilapidated ruins. Then onto tubes made from padded material, I pinned streamers on which I had written sixty words meaning love in the Arabic language. Sixty words for love when it is such a taboo where we come from!"

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