As the editors at Art Practical and Daily Serving get ready to take their end-of-summer vacations, we find ourselves swapping reading lists—the articles we’ll dive into once have some uninterrupted time to catch up on what our colleagues have been writing. We’ve gotten so excited about what’s on our lists that we want to share them with our readers. Between now and Labor Day, Daily Serving will feature the efforts of our fellow chroniclers of art and culture as part of our Summer Reading series. Today we are excited to present an excerpt of Nada Zanhour’s review of Mounira Al Solh’s work at the Sfeir-Semler Gallery in Beirut. This article was originally published on June 30, 2014, in REORIENT, and we thank the editors for their help in making this series possible. Enjoy!
Lebanese artist Mounira Al Solh’s latest solo exhibition, All Mother Tongues are Difficult, tells a story of exodus and the continual movement of individuals from their country of origin to new realms. Such journeys are seldom straightforward and unidirectional; humans are communicative beings, and language presents itself as a tool for survival. Naturalisation and migration demand substantial personal changes, as old ways and habits must be “shed” in order for one to adapt to their new environment. Accordingly, in her exhibition, Al Solh uses the current influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon as a starting point.
As one enters the premises of the Sfeir-Semler Gallery in Beirut, they step into a space filled with Damascene clogs–iconic objects safely stowed away in the region’s collective memory–comprising the installation Clogged. Extensively featured in older, popular films, these clogs are typically worn in hammams (bath houses). Audiences in the gallery are encouraged to try on a pair from among the dozens arranged there, and roam about in the space whilst “taking in” the rest of the exhibition. The installation, inspired by the phrase walk a mile in a man’s shoes before you judge him, invokes the notion of travel as well as the continuous wandering of refugees.
Lying adjacent to the scores of clogs, I Strongly Believe in Our Right to be Frivolous presents a series of mixed-media portraits. These works constitute a growing body of pieces that will eventually encompass 1,000 portraits. The series is based on illustrations inspired by the artist’s interviews with Palestinian–Syrian refugees who were again exiled, this time to Lebanon. The conversations are depicted through fragmented scribbles that highlight dramatic changes forced upon individuals in times of political turmoil. Al Solh’s practice reflects her intrigue with regard to the human dimensions of political issues; that is, the force politics has on an individual level. The artist takes on the role of a witness here to document human experiences in times of political havoc, using geopolitical forces as backdrops to her subjects’ stories.