Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Albareh Art Gallery @ Art Dubai - Camille Zakharia

First published on ArtClvb

Albareh Art Gallery brings to Art Dubai 2013 a show of Bahrain-based Lebanese artist Camille Zakharia, with a selection of artworks from two separate but curiously interrelated projects, “Markings” (2008) and “Belonging” (2010-2012). Showcased internationally since 1985, Zakharia’s work explores unconventional notions of identity and place; the unfurling of his images is textured as a map of spaces both fluid and open, breaking through the markers of topography, reaching truer places. Camille Zakharia’s own life journey between the Middle East, Europe and North America has equipped him with different pairs of eyes, through which he traces epicenters of instability. 

The artist is always seeking traces of personal stories and places as if geographies were constantly in movement, documenting the accelerating cycles of ruin, decay and renewal that shape modern life in urban environments. Yet Zakharia is not simply documenting with photographic precision; his artistic interventions on apparently innocuous images, become complex procedures of turning fleeting moments into monuments of all what is imperceptible to those immersed in the intoxicating business of sheer living. Through photography, photomontage and collage, his work blurs the distinction between memory and imagination with realistic irony; sometimes evoking Baroque allegory, sometimes Surrealistic montage, but always distinctively Middle Eastern. 

In “Markings” (2008), the artist produces a series of mandalas, quilts and Middle Eastern tapestries with Islamic motifs; endless combinations of patterns emerge, made out of simple photographs of white, yellow and blue paint on black asphalt. Zakharia inverts crass objects from the growing formlessness of cityscapes, into delicate and homogeneous surfaces, defying his own medium’s obsession with capturing or reproducing reality. While Susan Sontag notes that “Photographs help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure”, Camille Zakharia challenges this security of possession through the eye, by transforming original images into whole new orders of spatial arrangements. 

Along parallel lines, running through the earth’s grid, “Belonging” (2012), explores the uncertainty of concepts such as place, identity and belonging in a world made strange by endless myriads of possibilities. The project documents the life journeys of expatriates living in Bahrain and their definition of the word “belonging” in this unusual country, welcoming but contradictory, traditional but progressive, small but cosmopolitan. Zakharia confesses that since his original documentation, almost half of the interviewees are not living in the island any more, reflecting the transitory nature of human relationships in a globalized world. The shifting nature of space in Bahrain, a country still under construction, provides the background for the artist’s research.

Territory is not always a geographical place; there are territories of time, territories in the body, territories for the mind: Bahrain is one of those territories of paradox where geography is not a boundary, as much as an invitation to dwell in the interstices. Himself an immigrant, Zakharia is acutely aware of these paradoxes, associated with unknown lands and the process of appropriation. Accordingly, he set against the background of the participants and their statements, photographs of murals – perhaps no longer existing – painted by ordinary Bahrainis without formal training in art that he photographed all over Bahrain through the years, conveying a sense of time, shared but in dislocation. 

His collages are not accidental configurations: The distance between photographer and reality created by the lens is bridged through a series of interventions in which more than arrangements of photographs, the collages become tapestries – as in “Markings”, but riddled here with impure contrasts – carefully handcrafted by an artisan and woven with the yarn of disjointed threads: personal memories, colorful na├»ve iconography and shifting landscapes. Zakharia’s project becomes the untold visual history of coming and going, passing and changing; identifying home as a series of moments, something undefined and always in movement. Perhaps belonging is precisely just that: To be in longing.

What if being at home becomes impossible? What if after having lived abroad one is always abroad? What if Bahrain is not a center but a margin, ripe with impossible possibilities? When the place of origin can no longer be had or felt, it might be possible that it can still be seen in the faces and glimpses of others that we encounter in our places of transit and destination. Camille Zakharia’s works open before the viewer as a journey that has not been completed and at the end of which there are only questions. Or, in the words of Sontag, “If photographs are messages, the message is both transparent and mysterious.”

Arie Amaya-Akkermans
Source: Albareh Art Gallery

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