Nada Sehnaoui’s fine art of war and peace comes to Dubai

The Lebanese artist makes her UAE debut with a show that subtly references the cold facts of the Lebanon War.

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Lebanese artist Nada Sehnaoui is probably best known for her massive installation of 600 toilet cisterns in downtown Beirut in 2008. The visually arresting artwork, set up in an empty plot for two weeks, was used as a public seating area as well as a venue for film screenings, lectures and public debates.

Haven't 15 Years of Hiding in the Toilets Been Enough? was created in memory of the 15-year Lebanese War (1975 to 1990), during which people often took shelter from bombs and shrapnel in their bathrooms.

This month, Sehnaoui opened her first solo exhibition in the UAE at Gallery Isabelle Van Den Eynde in Dubai. Along These Lines is also a commentary on the war, now distilled into statistics for history books, and stripped of its human suffering or accountability.

“It all started when [the artist] stumbled across a mention of the Lebanese War Statistics published in several international newspapers in 1991,” writes Amanda Abi Khalil in the exhibition statement, explaining how Sehnaoui has referenced the list of the wounded, the dead and those that have disappeared, through the repeated use of mundane objects and brush strokes.

“[This way, she is] underlining the importance of time and process inherent to the act of remembering or forgetting. In doing so, she recalls and reiterates personal and collective acts of resilience that is symbolic of war, political instability and crisis.”

The large paintings in the show, titled How Many, How Many More, are brightly coloured and almost joyful, belying the dark concept. Each bears a numerical tally and each mark is represented by a strip of a torn-up map of the war-torn region.

In the centre of the space is a large installation – a restaged artwork titled To Sweep – which was originally conceived in 2010. It is a stack of 750 straw brooms representing post-war recovery, again using repetition to bring home the point.

Also in the show are 32 works from the series Peindre L'Orient Le Jour (Painting the L'Orient Le Jour). Every day for the whole of 1999, Sehnaoui painted over the front page of L'Orient Le Jour, the only Lebanese francophone newspaper, and presented them in a Beirut gallery.

The pieces retain their relevance when viewed in the context of the current exhibition, questioning the act of archiving by altering the newspaper – deleting some information and zeroing in on other.

It also highlights the gap between personal memory and reported fact, between human suffering and cold statistics.

Along These Lines reiterates Sehnaoui's position as an important artist in terms of regional, social, cultural and political commentary, and is an exhibition that must not be missed.

Along These Lines runs until June 16 at Gallery Isabelle Van Den Eynde in Dubai. Visit www.ivde.net

aseaman@thenational.ae