Back in Beirut I met an artist friend of Matias’ from Norway who has been visiting Lebanon since 2008: Mari Meen Halsøy. At the time I didn’t know what kind of art she did, and I still wouldn’t know until I moved here. But first I found out how awesome she is!
I learned a lesson carrying a lot of the Lebanese bounty I had just acquired selling my stuff with me OUT of Lebanon. Don’t do it. No exchanges were willing to take Lebanese liras. Afghani and Syrian ones are fine though. Mari, who will be visiting Lebanon in April or May offered to help us out and exchange our cash at a super hip party in Oslo. It was a win win.
She’s the reason I could buy our groceries for the next week, but she’s also one of the very few people I actually know here. So on a day when I was sitting around the apartment she invited me to her current exhibition in Grünerløkka (the current Mar Mikhael of Oslo) where she and two other artists had a showing at a gallery.
The show is called Human Rights / Human Wrongs and this gallery hosted three artists focusing on the Middle East.
Mari is an accomplished weaver; She had been studying weaving for years before she went to the Art Academy. “When I first visited Beirut in 2008 I realized I could combine my skill of weaving as art and apply it here in Lebanon,” she told me as a few super fabulous old Norwegian ladies admired her show, “Then I started the work in 2010.”
If you’ve ever been to Lebanon or seen iconic pictures of the notorious Holiday Inn hotel you can’t help but notice the damage on many of the still standing structures. Even our balcony in Beirut was riddled with shrapnel holes. “All of the buildings had these visible wounds from the bullet holes so I decided to heal them with the tapestries I wove,” Mari said, thus creating the name of her project, “Wounds.”
In the exhibition pamphlet (which is in Norwegian) she states the scars on the wall represent physical and mental scars of the people and portray a picture of man’s powerlessness in the situation of war.
On site in Lebanon if you’re staring at the actual building, the woven pieces blend perfectly with the walls around them. In the gallery in Oslo, the woven bullet-hole covers re-created a building wracked with bullet holes and scars from shrapnel.
Feelings of Beirut bubbled up inside me and I thought about the fabulous old ladies. Did this exhibition look like some exotic, war-torn art to them? Was this stop on their gallery tour of the hip part of Oslo a real cultural gem? To me it looked like a pretty accurate representation of daily scenery in Beirut. It was beautiful and I loved it.
Another exhibit was a video by an artist from Beirut, Ahmad Ghossein. He’s been working in and out of Norway and this art film married a story from the 2011 massacre on Utoya island with Lebanese identity. One attendee of that summer camp trip was a Lebanese student, brought in from Lebanon to be part of this uplifting political event for young people.
When Anders Brejvik arrived on the island wearing a police uniform he gunned down 69 people. Among others who survived, the Lebanese national managed to stay alive by swimming far out in the water. This video is entitled “You have to swim you have no choice.”
The video is a side by side movie of the artists’ brother swimming from very far out on the AUB beach back to land next to a Norwegian police uniform swaying in the breeze.
Ghossein grew up in Lebanon and is quoted in the art packet saying, “I have complex memories from my childhood growing up in a war zone.” This video encapsulates what swimming to survive means when you grow up surrounded by war.
Lastly, an artist from Kurdistan, Shwan Dler Qaradaki, hand drew part of his installation on the wall. It is a comic-book like set of instructions on how to create a gas-mask from things you have at home like a diaper, charcoal, thread, and needle. He learned this in school in Kurdistan as mandatory precaution training.
Then he covered the giant window of the gallery with thick cement bags, much like what we’ve been seeing in Lebanon these days, a tactic used to prevent glass shattering after bombs. He also created a multi-media video about his journey seeking asylum in Norway for 11 years before it was finally granted.
The exhibition is now over but the gallery space is still a cool place to stop by in Oslo. For more info check out kunstplass 5
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