Drawing as Graphic Witness

Tue 20 June 2017 : 6:30pm – 8:00pm

Artists’ Mounira Al Solh and Nidhal Chamekh in conversation with curator Amal Khalaf with an introduction by Kate Macfarlane, curator of Graphic Witness.

What happens to individuals caught up in political turmoil and how can drawing provide evidence of injustice, create powerful commentary and prompt social change? Artists’ Mounira Al Solh and Nidhal Chamekh, whose work can be seen in the Graphic Witness exhibition, and Amal Khalaf, Projects Curator of the Serpentine Gallery’s Edgware Road Project, will present their ideas and discuss the implications of their projects.

Mounira Al Solh was born in Beirut and grew up there during the civil war and now lives in the Netherlands and in Lebanon. She works across video and video installations, painting and drawing, embroidery, and performative gestures. Irony and self-reflection are central strategies for her work, which explores feminist issues, tracks patterns of microhistory, is socially engaged, and can be political and escapist all at once.   I strongly believe in our right to be frivolous is a series of drawings, begun in 2012, that aims to represent 1,000 Syrians, Palestinians and others exiled to Lebanon in the last few years.  Al Solh invited these individuals to her studio in Beirut, to welcome them, while writing down their conversations and making sketches. These small scale studies of a variety of people are non-didactical and non-historical personal narratives of Syria before 2011. 

I want to be a party (2015 and ongoing) is a series of anecdotes, personal stories and semi-fictions, captured in drawings, painting and embroideries, some of which are produced in collaboration with refugees and displaced women, thus creating groups that allow conversations and temporary jobs. The work is about objects her own family members sold to survive certain wars in the region from around after WWII till today.  

In 2008 Al Solh started NOA Magazine (Not Only Arabic), a performative gesture co-edited with collaborators, and in 2013 with curator Angela Serino she initiated the NOA Language School in Amsterdam, a temporary research platform for artists, linguists, researchers and immigrants to explore topics such as treason, arrest, fragmentation of language and schizophrenia.

Nidhal Chamekh deploys classical drawing as a forensic tool to uncover evidence of historic acts of governmental injustice and brutality in his native Tunisia and to produce both small and large scale drawings that comment on the unfolding political events in the region. What do martyrs dream about? (2012) is a suite of twelve drawings on paper that reference the events of the Arab Spring of 2011.   These assembled drawings appropriate a range of images - classically executed body parts and glossy media images of happy young people, both icons of progress, appear alongside the eviscerated victims of conflict to represent the complexity of the Arab uprising and its ongoing aftermath.  In a more recent body of work Les Battement des Ailes (2016), Chamekh again assembles heterogeneous elements such as stuffed birds, seeds and dried plants.  These drawings symbolise the past, or death, but at the same time suggest the importance of looking to history in order to improve the future.

Since 2011 Chamekh has lived between Tunis and Paris, and he is currently working on a series of works based on ‘The Jungle’, the refugee camp in Calais. He began visiting the camp on a regular basis in 2015, and his drawings of strong, resourceful youths and ingenious shelters, such as  #icare (2016), contest the image of the asylum seeker as downtrodden and powerless.  Chamekh was present when the camp was dismantled by the French authorities and the video footage he shot informs a new body of work. 

Amal Khalaf  is a researcher, artist and Projects Curator for the Edgware Road Project at the Serpentine Galleries, London. With an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from Goldsmiths, her research addresses urbanism, community, media activism and art through participatory projects, and media initiatives. She has worked with Al Riwaq Gallery, Bahrain, and participated in setting up an art space in an abandoned railway arch in East London.  Her writing appears in journals such as Ibraaz, ArteEast and Middle East Critique and is included in two 2014 publications: Uncommon Grounds: New Media and critical practice in North Africa and the Middle East and Moving Image and Everyday Life.


View large image Studying Circles, 2015

Nidhal Chamekh, Studying Circles, 2015 Graphite on wood-free paper, 240 x 300 cm Courtesy Patrick Heide

View large image Are you pretending to be Jesus?

Mounira Al Solh, Are you pretending to be Jesus? Oil, acrylic, black ink and charcoal on canvas, 168 x 210 cm Courtesy the artist & Sfeir-Semler Gallery Hamburg / Beirut