Of Poems and Archeologies

Maria Kassab

OF POEMS AND ARCHEOLOGIES, photographed by Maria Kassab, is the creation of a dreamlike narrative focusing on past and present memories about war, violence, and their relationship to religion. Her home country Lebanon is a sectarian country, it witnessed years of division and corruption, its politics fluctuate between the absence of the truth, the ambiguity of the events, and the presence of terror. The series draws a cryptic, dark, and enigmatic representation of the political ordeal her country thrives upon. A generation that lived and still lives in the uncertainty of staying alive tomorrow. In August 2020, the capital was rocked by a massive explosion that left hundreds of people displaced, dead, and traumatized.
After a year of absence, Maria Kassab went to Beirut in September 2021 to visit her family and friends. Upon her arrival, she went to the harbor where the explosion happened and documented the dismantled houses. The devastating incident caused a whole generation of young adults to leave their ill-fated country and find refuge in other territories. Kassab explores the impact of a society's attachment to religion and ideologies that nurture the causes of violence and divisions. However, the truth of the event is still ambiguous due to tensions and to prevent internal war between sects, therefore she draws a metaphorical narrative symbolizing a generation's burial and entrapment. The memory of war undulates in the subject's body and psyche preventing him to escape his dark fate, his personal objects become the metaphor of a scattered identity waiting to be rediscovered over and over again. The content of the work takes the form of a religious altar where the character dies and resurrects continuously, until becoming an empty vessel.

Maria Kassab

Maria Kassab is a Lebanese interdisciplinary artist and creative director, she studied Communication Arts and Fine Arts at the Lebanese American University, Beirut. Her work focuses on the political and cultural climate in Lebanon and the MENA region using photography, image manipulation, and video work as her main mediums. Her work has been exhibited internationally most notably in Beirut, Paris, Washington DC, Copenhagen, Brussels, Palermo, and Berlin. Her artworks are published in international and local art magazines. She is currently in the process of researching different visual languages while exploring new cultural and social territories. While a photographer would view the photographic print as an endpoint, Kassab sees it as a starting place. Images and photographs are blank canvases in need of materiality. She experiments with image manipulation and photography to create narratives as forms of resistance to the current cultural, social, and political situation in Lebanon and the MENA region. Whatever additions, removals, and or edits an image needs to realize a demonstration, Maria restores it. Her work focuses on identity, memory, and displacement, conveying her irreconcilable relationship with home (Lebanon). Her deconstructive identity involves the decontextualization of subjects and objects from their natural habitat. Her deconstructive images navigate between absence and presence while recollecting a timeline of violent events from her hometown Beirut.

What is a good design for you?

A good design is one that conveys a message, a purpose/functionality.

What was the most challenging experience during your studies?

First and foremost the challenging part was the timing which is during the pandemic. As photographers, we were challenged by the limited access we had in terms of the lockdown. However the challenge was to adapt and find solutions, and that was very inspiring. A lot of inner reflections surfaced, it was very difficult as we are used to connecting, exchanging live with eachother. The separation, isolation, and being behind a screen for almost two years during our studies enabled me to use these tools and experiences as (testimonies) to recreate different narratives about the current situation in some projects. The challenging part was also the concentration.

Who or what inspires you?

I find inspiration in conflict and poetry. In books, films, and exhibitions I attend. Most inspiration comes from my background, from my culture, community, and since geopolitics are conflictual from where I come from, I try to elevate the work as a resistance to past and present tragedies.

How do you approach a new project?

I approach a new project first by the message it wants to convey, and then I retreat in its historical aspect whether it be through an artistic reference, inspiration, or testimonies, and try to draw parallelism to the present content.

What advice would you give to students who just started studying in your programme?

To unlearn and learn again, research and find a purpose.

Have you changed during your studies? How?

Yes, I had to unlearn things and gain new knowledge, mostly it enabled me to dilate much more in my thinking and my practice. And research, research all the time.

Why did you choose to study in your programme?

Because I was already involved with photography and it's a very wide medium. It involves, design, collage, history, memory. Everything is an image, whether it is static or moving. With the speeding technology and the human/machine extension, we are all involved in it today, I am interested in the development of this medium, the way it will evolve in the future, and how I can be part of this evolution since it is already my practice.

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Abhishek Pal