BEIRUT: The connection between plastic surgery, the mistreatment of domestic workers and weapons of mass destruction may not seem obvious. Over the past few years, however, Lebanese painter Tagreed Darghouth has become fascinated by each subject in turn, gradually turning her focus outward from issues embedded in Lebanese society to the global issue of nuclear war.“I decided to work on a subject that maybe interests a wider range of people,” she explains, “and I guess it is related in one way or another, not directly to the subject of plastic surgery but to the worry of losing one’s life, whether it’s for natural reasons or for catastrophic reasons like the invention of the nuclear weapon.”
Darghouth’s latest exhibition, “Rehearsals,” currently up at Hamra’s Agial Gallery, revisits weapons of mass destruction – the theme of her 2011 solo show at the same venue, “Canticle of Death.”
The 2011 exhibition included a series of accomplished paintings of mushroom clouds, human skulls and ironic pieces derived from the cheerful nicknames the U.K. and U.S. have given their nuclear arsenals.
“I read by chance that the English nuclear project is called The Rainbow,” Darghouth explains, “and that for each nuclear weapon they would choose a color and a very cute name, like Blue Bunny, Green Grass, Red Rose, Yellow Sun, Violet Mist.”
These trivializing names led Darghouth to create “The Rainbow of Death,” a series of seven toxic mushroom clouds painted in cheerful rainbow colors, as well as her take on the American bombs “Fat Man,” “Thin Man” and “Little Boy.”
In “Rehearsals” Darghouth continues to explore WMD, this time focusing on the physical realities of an explosion. The majority of the paintings on show capture the enormous craters left behind by nuclear tests, emphasizing that nuclear weapons are more than just a looming threat – they are actively being developed and detonated on a regular basis.
“My work is based on photos of places where nuclear tests have really happened,” she explains, “especially in the Nevada Desert, where there [have been] more than 2000 nuclear tests ... These are actual craters with actual crater landscapes, nothing from my imagination.”
The landscapes that form the bulk of “Rehearsals” are bleak, postapocalyptic things, free from any sign of life. Darghouth is interested in emphasizing the realities, not painting imagined scenes of a postnuclear cityscape, but the title of the exhibition reminds viewers that these weapons are not made to be blown up in a desert, far from human habitation, but are intended for a much more deadly purpose.
The craters are not as visually striking as Darghouth’s skulls and mushroom clouds, a couple of which are also exhibited in “Rehearsals,” but there is something compelling about them nonetheless. The shapes formed by the explosions, which have carved huge, circular holes into the landscape, make the ground resemble the pitted, pockmarked surface of the moon.
“There are lots of people who don’t know that such a thing really exists,” Darghouth observes, “these contaminated areas ... Sometimes these craters would be more than 300 meters wide and 150 deep. So it [can be] very fascinating and very fearful.”
She adds: “Our darkest ability to destroy is seen in these craters. I think these they are fascinating, in a very dark way ... I would like to say that these craters are craters in our humanity.”
The gallery’s ground floor is hung with pieces depicting craters, supplemented by several paintings capturing the distinctive shape of the nuclear mushroom cloud, rendered beautiful by her thick, swirling brushstrokes.
Hung above the stairs to the gallery’s underground chamber is a series of works capturing surveillance cameras – an interpretation of a bomb nicknamed Big Brother – while downstairs hang skulls. These are clear continuations of the subject matter from Darghouth’s last exhibition, and seem slightly out of place amid the craters, which signal a change in approach.
Nuclear weapons may be a more generalized theme than the subjects of her earlier work, but Darghouth believes that her paintings have a particular resonance in Lebanon.
“I think that since we live in this area of constant conflict it is always hidden in our inner conscience that this weapon might be used someday,” she says. “It’s not related particularly to Lebanon but I think that what’s going on in Lebanon encouraged me to paint this subject.
“I think we are the weakest in the game of what’s going on, those who live in this area. We don’t have nuclear weapons and since we are not part of the technological science of making any, we are very subjected to being victims.”
Tagreed Darghouth’s “Rehearsals” is up at Agial Gallery in Hamra until Oct. 31. For more information please call 01-345-213.