Lord Ludd is pleased to present a solo exhibition of recent work by Manal Abu-Shaheen. This will be the artist’s first solo presentation in Philadelphia and first time showing with the gallery.
The exhibition will open with a reception on April 21st from 6pm to 8pm, and will continue through May 20, 2017.
“A world city is generally considered to be an important node in the global economic system. The concept comes from geography and urban studies, and the idea that globalization can be understood as largely created, facilitated, and enacted in strategic geographic locales according to a hierarchy of importance to the operation of the global system of finance and trade.
World cities are sorted into three categories: “Alpha”, “Beta”, and “Gamma”. Philadelphia and Beirut are both “Beta”.
Comprising of photographs taken on-site and architectural renderings, Manal Abu-Shaheen’s work describes the effect of the visual languages of development, consumerism, and erasure on Beirut’s lived urban reality.
Figures tower alongside new construction sites and settle over yet-unrepaired walls in Abu-Shaheen’s Beirut. Lots are covered by rendered dreams of what they will become and the dispossessed Western glamour of advertisements. Cars, liquor, glances of empty, unmoving seduction penetrate intimate or exterior environments, and create backdrops which commingle with the city’s architecture and inhabitants.
Cast in black and white, the first impression of many of Abu-Shaheen’s photographs is disorientation through scale, flatness, and confusion about whether a form belongs to the real city or an ad. The mix-ups are only heightened in the achromatic slips from charcoals to silvery lights: posters of new Hyundais almost pass for parked cars newish and beat up; sidewalk trunks lurk among printed palms; atopic roads stretch arguably farther than the concrete or dirt ones they replace.
The imaginary life of attainable possessions runs parallel to that of promotions for luxury apartments and new institutional buildings. The architectural renderings Abu-Shaheen includes conjure a near-future city fit for Kate Winslet’s sunglasses, tourists, yacht-owners. As in all projections, there are far-fetched mistakes like renderings set in vague “Middle Eastern”-type cities, as well as uncanny, site-specific details. Having been occupied for the past 5,000 years by a succession of Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans, and French before independent rule, any new development in Beirut risks the discovery of an ancient ruin; and to a certain extent, the renderings acknowledge this, emphasizing stone arches and archaic forms alongside architecture seemingly self-lit by its own potential.
Abu-Shaheen does more than beg the question of who the beneficiaries are of putting what-has-yet-to-come in direct succession to “the past”—the answer is as obvious as it is predictable: companies, capital that sometimes leans local but tends global, the powers that be. “Colony” comes to us from the turning and tilling of soil for resettlement, and which version of colonialism has avoided rapacious exploitation? If chaos is a necessary byproduct of colonialism, confusion is its best tool, and pretensions of fluidity its only alibi. Rather, other latent questions of Abu-Shaheen’s work are: which Beirut is being resettled? And what is being turned away from in literally covering over the present and immediate past?
The formal disordering created by the work suggests other, more human-scaled shifts, emotional, practical, and perceptual. The world of images Abu-Shaheen documents is never presented alone, but always with the context of lived experience. Behind the building-sized billboards, there are gunshot pocks and dwellers’ laundry; garbage and rubble swells; people walk about and often around these intrusions. The present tense does not speak as loudly as the clamoring which produced it or which it may become, and this murmur nestles most intimately with the different, cacophonous demands of each day to buy groceries and find a place to sleep and work, sweat, love, fear, repress, become one self or another, internalize, hurry and get bored, declare truths and lies.
Still: the work also seems to ask for more space for the difficult work of actually processing history. By pointing out just how ubiquitously capital is transforming parts of the city, fast—and against the reality of a country where various groups have been (and are) silenced and persecuted both in-and externally—Abu-Shaheen’s art makes a case for the importance of different visions which attempt to account for competing histories in varied ways. In a studio visit, Abu-Shaheen mentioned that Johnnie Walker Post-War Advertisement. After 2006 Conflict. Beirut, Lebanon, the first image in this series, was an advertisement made by Lebanese graphic designers immediately after the war between Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Force. Part of the power of the image was to acknowledge the many bridges that had been destroyed during the conflict; even as the poster sold liquor, it also spoke directly to a community about a shared experience of war. It is not a perfect gesture, but it contains the possibility of communication based on both the experience of the recent past and the reality of economic systems and conditions. Abu-Shaheen presents these gestures and the spaces around them so we can see what they are, before time and ideation shield them from view.
Text by Gaby Collins-Fernandez
Manal Abu-Shaheen is a Lebanese-American photographer currently living and working in Long Island City, NY. She was born in Beirut in 1982 and moved from Lebanon to New York in 2000. Abu-Shaheen received a MFA in Photography from the Yale School of Art, New Haven, CT in 2011; a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY in 2003; and attended Lebanese American University, Byblos, Lebanon in 1999. Her work has been exhibited at the Queens Museum, Queens, NY (2016); The Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins, CO (2016); The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, NY (2015); The Print Shop at MoMA PS1, Queens, NY (2014); Camera Club of New York, NY (2013); and Welch School of Art and Design Galleries, Atlanta, GA (2012), among others. She is a recipient of the 2016/17 A.I.R Gallery Fellowship and the 2015 Artist in the Marketplace Residency program at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. She currently teaches at the City College of New York.