Do Not Contemplate: Waddah Faris’ Photographs
Text by Natasha Gasparian
The true image of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image that flashes up at the moment of its recognizability and is never seen again …For it is an irretrievable image of the past which threatens to disappear in any present that does not recognize itself as intended in that image. – Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Concept of History
Waddah Faris’ photographs had been lying in boxes, collecting dust for nearly half a century. They had largely gone unseen. No seductive narrative can describe the sudden motivation Faris found to return to his archive of negatives and images; he was led to it by unremarkable occurrences. However, he began to find photographs he had never seen before – or ones he could not remember having seen – of moments he often could not remember having experienced. From the early 1960s up to the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, Faris snapped fleeting moments of the everyday. He observed his own extended circle of friends and comrades closely, and took portraits of them caught in action. There were artists mingling at exhibition openings in the Sursock Museum; dancers rehearsing for the Baalbek festival
Waddah Faris is not a photographer per se. As an opposer to the professionalization of the sphere of art, he at times dabbled, and at others, plunged in an impressive range of activities. For the most part, he produced the graphic designs for books and journals, including the cover of Ghassan Kanafani’s first book موت سرير رقم ١٢ (A death in Bed No. 12). He had short stints at both Annahar and al-Hurriya newspapers as a graphic designer, and regularly contributed drawings and designs to the reviews Shi’r and Hiwar. With César Nammour and Mireille Tabet as his partners, he founded Contact in 1972– an art gallery in Ras Beirut which hosted an erratic program of young, modern Arab artists at a time when commercial art galleries were preoccupied with European art. The gallery ran three zany issues of a review also titled Contact. Rather than a catalogue of objects for sale, it was intended as a directory of exhibitions and
In all of this, Faris’ photographic practice was peripheral. Whether he took pictures for posterity is impertinent, for the pictures retroactively gain an urgency which exceeds his intentions. The photographs seize the past in the form of an image, but this past is not a determinate object: it is not a fixed set of spatial or temporal coordinates, nor is it an archive from which historical material can be appropriated. What is known of the past does not exist apart from the present’s relation to it. The past itself is subject to historical change. The two are dialectically intertwined. The past is a disruptive force actualized in the present – the former only comes into being when resurrected as the latter. To historicize the sixties as the era of failed struggles puts the past in the service of the needs of the present. However, the past cannot
Beirut, The City of the World’s Desire: The Chronicles of Waddah Faris (1960-1975)
19 May - 29 July, 2017
Il était une fois un tout petit pois
22 August - 23 September
Il était une fois un tout petit pois is an installation that brings together several places, historical periods and socio-political contexts to consider the possibility of coexistence. It does not merely raise a theoretical proposition, it echoes a practical concern: “living together” generates immeasurable violence when it fails.
The installation positions the spectator in relation to the human vulnerability that arises when faced with violence and conflict. A variation of the fairy tale of the Princess and the Pea, a young girl sleeps on a pile of mattresses in the center of the room. She lies beneath a bedframe, on top of which there is an enormous pea in the form of a cannonball. This fairy tale derivative involves no wedding engagement; the girl is aware of an impending threat and looks for shelter. Despite the sense of danger, Badr calls on the surviving viewer to keep on dreaming.
Badr reenchants this world of horror through fairy tales – disquieting, and at once, a source of poetry and dreams. The idea for the installation came after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, and is part of a larger project titled Borderless which is concerned with geographic and transitory borders.