Culture

LGBTQ love letters interpreted into art

BEIRUT: Bridging creative writing with visual art, “Love Letters to Meem” is a group exhibition curated by Dima Mikhayel Matta. Up at Station Beirut in Jisr al-Wati, the show features 16 artists whose works are inspired by self-referential love letters written by members of the LGBTQ community (MEEM in Arabic). “This is important for the LGBTQ+ community because there is so much marginalization ... oppression, stigmatization and internalized homophobia,” Matta told The Daily Star, “so really if you are a LGBTQ person it is very hard to love yourself.

“Everybody could use some self- love. This is my kind of activism for the LGBTQ community in Beirut.”

The founder of Cliffhangers, which stages monthly storytelling evenings in Beirut, Matta led the creative writing workshop from which these letters emerged.

“I applied for a Fulbright [U.S. scholarship] grant in order to conduct a creative writing workshop for LGBTQ+ participants,” she explained. “During that workshop they did several exercises, the culmination of which was to write love letters to themselves.

“These letters were then given to several artists from different fields – performance, music, dance, visual arts, video art etc. – and they interpreted them into [the] works that we are exhibiting.

“They had to trust the artists,” she said, “just as the artists had to trust the words.”

In Bshara Atallah’s piece “Tiered,” a mannequin clothed in many layers of dresses stands at the entrance to the gallery floor. Ties are knotted around the fabric, eventually forming a rope that extends to the ceiling.

Every two days one item of clothing will be removed from the mannequin until the final day of the exhibition, when only one dress will remain. “All these ties ... suggest several things,” Matta explained.

“First, that you can wear whatever you want, letting go of gender binaries and dress codes, but also that the patriarchy tends to hang us a little bit.”

One wall of the gallery is left bare, with nothing but a small sculpture hanging from it. Upon closer inspection, it shows a plant growing out of the body of a small figure.

“This is one of my favorite pieces,” Matta said, “by Mirella Salame. The head is a carved avocado seed. [The body is] recycled paper, soil, moss and a succulent plant. It talks about how a person just keeps growing. ... [We] wanted to leave it on this big white empty space to say we are vulnerable but we keep on growing.”

“Undo,” a photo series by Tanya Traboulsi, comprises selfies hung side by side, like clothes on a washing line. “She took 140 selfies,” Matta explained.

“Some are absolutely raw and unedited ... some [use] silly filters. It is supposed to be overwhelming ... [like] the way you swipe on a phone.

“[The work] talks about the obsession with portraying the best side of ourselves, even if we are feeling miserable.

“We take a photo, put a filter on it and this is what we want the world to see.”

For his installation “While We Wait,” Giorgio Bassil gathered footage from the online chat website Chat Roulette.

Metta explained that Bassil recorded the emptied interiors of strangers who’d left their webcams on after stepping out.

The 119 interior recordings are shown above a webcam, which captures the viewer’s own reflection – alluding how we can see, and be seen, in the most intimate surroundings online.

Produced to resemble a vintage photo, Mohamad Abdouni’s “Mother and Son” captures drag queen Melanie Co

Pull Quote
with her mother.

“I love that the mum is there – proud, smiling, saying ‘I am supporting my son no matter what,’” Matta said. “I love that she’s taller than the mom, leaning on her, a full grown adult still leaning on their mother.”

Following the exhibition, Cliffhangers will be putting on a night of storytelling, hosted by Station Beirut.

“Love Letters to Meem” closes at Station Beirut on May 10. Closing night performances feature Leen al-Hashem, Alexandre Paulikevitch and Paed Conca.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 08, 2018, on page 16.

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