Sunday, April 27, 2008

Don't Flush

In the long line of Phoenician tradition of exporting ideas from the world and transcribing them to a Lebanonese platform, installation art is a relatively new artform in Lebanon and it is being used quite widely in recent years.
Lebanese artist Nada Sehnaoui uses installation art to convey her messages. I have to say that she usually does a good job doing so and on many occasions; a small hop to her website might be useful for the interested.

Her latest was an installation in Beirut central district in the lot facing Starco center. The title for the installation was "HAVEN'T 15 YEARS OF HIDING IN THE TOILETS BEEN ENOUGH?", and the presentation is of a well organized set of about 600 crystal clean toilet seats neatly placed in an almost perfect grid.
The title in itself is quite silly since Sehnaoui presupposes that almost all Lebanese were hiding in their toilets during the (15 years?) of war on Lebanon hugging their toilet seats in a state of constant fear frenzy. Well, no.

Some Lebanese citizens were hiding in underground shelters, some preferred cast concrete staircases and some even preferred a more comfortable overseas hideout in Cyprus, Europe, Australia or other continents. Some lost their loved ones, some fought in trenches, in alleys, or on the frontlines.
Almost all Lebanese families lost a loved one, a relative or an acquaintance during those wars and the toilet seat, however tragic Sehnauoi thinks it is as a household item was probably the last thing on the minds of those families.
Portraying moments of war with a clean toilet seat brightly lit by huge light projectors as if glorified as an object is a message gone the wrong way. To say the least.

I will presume that Nada Sehnaoui personally thinks that the toilet seat is a reminder of the Lebanese civil war, i don't want to imagine her daily agony while performing one of nature's rituals everyday and how confusing that may have been to her for all those years but if indeed it was an object of miserable memories for having to shelter oneself in the most underprivileged room in the house, the mere sense of enclosure was probably the main reason some people turned to their toilets for shelter. That sense of enclosure was abscent in Sehnaoui's installation. Instead, she opted for exactly the opposite; a huge open space with bright lights, thus stripping the whole experience from its principal sensual asset. Besides, toilets during the shelling were most probably lit by faint candlelights since electrical power was cut. Again, Sehnaoui had an abundance of light shining on the new white seats.

I don't know if Nada Sehnaoui meant to create that contrast in contexts but if she did, then the whole "toilet thing" lost all its meaning.
Wars are tragic, they should always be remembered that way. Moreover, wars are learning experiences from which humans can draw conclusions for their common future. A responsible look at civil wars is not only framed in moments of fear and glorifying those moments to that extent, this only supposes that the people remembering those wars have completely missed the inherent lesson. Fear is normal but it's not the essential ingredient that we should learn from.

Almost every medical doctor tells you that the toilet seat is an important place where you can have a look to inquire about the state of your own health. So you wouldn't want to flush that toilet in a hurry for now.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Circus of Hypocrisy

Illustration by Ares

If there ever was a "Richter" scale for hypocrisy, it would have gone red hot mad during the last couple of weeks in Lebanon. Double standards are a rare sight nowadays, where triple (or more) standards have ruled the media landscape on three issues.

First, the controversy over the lawsuit between General Michel Aoun and Paul Chaoul (supposed to be an intellectual, erudite of a creature) following the latter's article in an anti-Aoun newspaper in which he used inflammatory language, libel and sleazy sentences worthy of a whorehouse pimp.
Now, this lawsuit would have been normal and natural in any country in the world except for Lebanon where a large panoply of "intellectuals" and media figures (who accidentally work in anti-Aoun political media outlets) signed a petition raving against the lawsuit and declaring it as a direct punch to the freedom of expression in the country and the mere fact that Michel Aoun resorted to the rule of law in this matter is -in their "intellectual" opinion- something outrageous.
The hypocrisy here is not their opinion or their petition, but the fact that the people who they work for, namely Saad Hariri, Samir Geagea and many other politicians still have a dozen active lawsuits against critical journalists.

Second, Persepolis.
The movie was banned from the movie theaters in Lebanon under the pretext that it portrays the Islamic republic of Iran in a bad way. Something which is supposed to upset many sympathizers of the revolution in Lebanon mainly Hezbollah and Amal.
The ban was a huge hit in the Hariri-media where they grabbed every chance to portray it as a dangerous development in Lebanese values of modernity and freedom. The issue (like almost everything in Lebanon) was politicized to such extreme extents in "intellectual" circles and journalists that one would think that Lebanon has become an Iranian Islamic satellite state.
Of course nobody mentioned the hypocrisy that during the rule of senior Hariri, many movies, books and artists were banned in Lebanon under a panoply of pretexts and no one of those same "intellectuals" cared to lift a finger or wast a drop of their precious ink on a newspaper because the "boss" is always over criticism.

Third, and last week, 20 pubs and restaurants in Gemmayze were closed by the ministry of tourism (part of the Hariri toolbox) under the pretext of noise pollution following a pajama demonstration of some residents of the Gemmayze street. Of course they're upset, saturday nights are busy in Gemmayze and the area is practically the only area in Lebanon where barhoppers can enjoy themselves. But of course totalitarian-style swift justice is not the only solution if the ministry never cared to study the issue carefully and propose a series of recommendations to deal with the problem.
No "intellectual" or Hariri-media cared to even comment on that fact and ideal criticism is obviously only reserved for political opponents.
Just to put things into perspective, one would imagine a huge international media campaign and millions of dollars poured into propagandist media outlets and journalists/intellectuals-for hire if that decision was that on a Hezbollah minister. Hence, Hypocrisy.

For anyone with an atom of common sense, Lebanese media and most of the intellectuals in Lebanon have become practically unbearable.