Akram Zaatari

29 Jan - 05 Jun 2011

Exhibition view
The Uneasy Subject (El molesto asunto)
Curator: Juan Vicente Aliaga
Coordinator: Helena López Camacho
29 January - 5 June 2011

On 29 January MUSAC will unveil The Uneasy Subject, a site-specific project by artist Akram Zaatari (Saida, Lebanon, 1966) that includes an exhibition, a video programme, and a book. Zaatari uses image-based media to explore historical, political and social issues. The title The Uneasy Subject refers to the status of the body in Lebanese and Arab societies in general, thus extending the scope of the themes dealt with in his work. The Uneasy Subject is co-produced with MUAC, Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo, (México City,, where it will travel from February 2012- .

On Akram Zaatari
Since the mid 1990s, Akram Zaatari’s work has explored issues related to the importance of images as a medium for communicating reality, essentially through the use of photography, film and video.

Despite his early training in architecture, Zaatari’s interest in these disciplines led him to relocate to the US, where he studied media at the New School in NYC. In the mid 1990s he entered the professional world of TV as producer at Future TV in Beirut, a station where he was able to carry out visual innovations and where he produced a number of short films part documentary, part art film and part formal experiment.

Also influenced by auteur filmmaking, with references ranging from Godard, Fassbinder and Pasolini to Harun Farocki and Mohammed Soueid, particularly the latter’s Cinéma Fouad (1993), a film that avoids clichés and simplified or facile perceptions of Arab culture. In this sense, Zaatari attempts to breach and destabilise traditional narrative patterns through the use of fragmenting techniques and documentary-based metaphors where he establishes dislocated associations between images and text. Likewise, many of the components feeding into his aesthetics are drawn from popular culture, with a visible imprint, for example, from American and Egyptian movies and the music broadcast on Lebanese radio.

His personal recollections, as one of the main axes structuring his work, also hark back to issues such as the Palestinian presence in Lebanon, the impact of Syrian control, clashes between rival political factions or the Israeli invasion of 1982.

Concerned with approaching historical, political and social issues from a visual perspective, in 1997 he co-founded the Fondation Arabe pour l ́Image, whose mission was to compile, recover, preserve and research the photographic heritage (artistic, commercial and popular) both of his own war-torn country and of Arab nations as a whole. Zaatari’s work is therefore inextricably connected to the region’s political, social and cultural context.

One of his major achievements was to recover the photographic archives of Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani, whose commercial studio Shehrazade at Sidon, established in the early 1950s, produced not only countless studio portraits, but also photographs of people in their everyday working environment. Some of Madani’s images come back to life in Zaatari’s own projects.

Despite being internationally renowned for tackling issues connected to the armed conflicts suffered by Lebanon (civil wars between 1975 and 1990 and Israeli military occupation, both themes that are ever present in Lebanese creative output), Zaatari turns his gaze away from patriotic discourse. Indeed, he is highly critical of the way in which the State has used these conflicts to promote the concept of a national unity that he believes to be artificial. In works such as All is Well on the Border (1997) or In This House (2005), Zaatari blends a documentary component with fictional ingredients, whilst tackling aspects related to Lebanese resistance, without neglecting his characters’ everyday personal and intimate experiences.

On The Uneasy Subject
The Uneasy Subject extends the realm of questions and issues explored by Zaatari. The title refers to the status of the body and its meaning in Lebanese society and in the Arab world as a whole. The project, designed specifically for MUSAC, includes an exhibition, a video programme, a book and a conference.

- The Uneasy Subject: the exhibition
In the exhibition The Uneasy Subject, the artist uses a range of photographs, videos, films and documentary material (press clippings, photographs collected by Zaatari, etc.) to explore the various roles enacted by and expectations placed upon men and women in the Arab world. Representations of the body (and nudity), both individually and as collective actions, and shifts in interpersonal relationships upon the arrival of new media and technologies such as the internet, are some of the issues presented in show.

In 1997 Zaatari began his research with the Fondation Arabe pour l ́Image, travelling through Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria. During the process he came across a great many photographs of boys and girls in different poses, which he began to collect, intending to use them for a personal project.

This idea resulted in Another Resolution (1998), a series of works in which Zaatari shot portraits of adults imitating the poses adopted by the children in the archive pictures gathered in the course of his research. The installation is presented as a parallel dialogue between the portraits of boys and girls in poses typical of their age (eating ice-cream, playing, etc.) face to face with pictures of adults imitating and re-enacting those same poses and stances. This collection of gestures and attitudes allows Zaatari to explore the role of body language in the construction of cultural, social and gender identities.

In the video piece The Scandal (1999), the artist uses TV footage to explore the boundaries between the public and private realms. Tomorrow Everything Will Be Alright (2010) is a subtle yet brave approach to sexuality and bonds of affection and desire between men, a theme that acquires particular relevance in this video, since the expression of homosexual love is a taboo subject in the Arab context.

Along with these works on film, the show at MUSAC will also feature new pieces such as Body Builders (2010), Ali’s Back (2010) or the installation Youtube Video Projections (2010).

Tags: Harun Farocki, Akram Zaatari