10 October 2007

Land Memory

In 2005, we were asked to put on a group exhibit of Detroit area Arab artists. We decided to create a thematic multi-media show that would include painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, graphics, video and audio installations, and a mural that we created in situ in the gallery during the duration of the exhibit. We decided on a theme called "Journeys & Distances", focusing on the concept of people in a constant state of "journeying," where people's lives and experiences, through migration and displacement, are linked to the old and the new, where their restlessness is ceaseless and they constantly migrate back and forth, mentally, emotionally or physically, in a search for themselves.

For the exhibit I focused on the intangible memory of land and home in a series of oil paintings.

The following is the artist statement I submitted for my paintings at the exhibit:
In exploring our innermost voices, struggling with the mysteries of memory and loss is inevitable. The memories of a distant home are heard as whispers that want to manifest themselves in the outer world of images. I hear the images of a forsaken home, of a home that is like faint shadows of ourselves, of a home that is not familiar any longer, of a more ancient land from which our roots were yanked. Initially these images are intangible and not formed, and so the exploration of these images is an exploration of that which is elusive and pliable. Thus the paintings become abstractions of home and land. The search for these images occurs entirely through the very direct interaction with the media; the exploration of the paint takes form as a discovery of those faint visualizations of home.


The mural that we created in situ is 24 x 8 feet. It was a collaborative work that synthesized many of the themes that the various artists presented in their individual bodies of work. Issues such as migration, sacrifice, loss, cultural transplantation, melancholy, urban industrialization, rural roots, steadfastness, hard work, community, assimilation, identity conflict, heritage, and so on.

The general design was based on a small watercolor, below, that I did years earlier, although the mural incorporated many more elements and themes mentioned above that the group collaboratively brought together.

The theme of land-memory was not a new one for me at the time of the "Journeys" exhibit. It first visited itself upon me in the early 90's, just as the first Gulf War was being performed and subsequently as it died down, but without the haunts of death ever dying down after it. These are two early (undeveloped) paintings from that time:


Recently i have revisited the theme and I am exploring it through a series of emotionally charged abstracts that are very personal in their impetuous and execution. No longer is the land docile and the object of remembering; it now heaves with tumultuous activity and rebellion. The land itself is in upheaval, just as its people are; the land has its own memory.




My latest series, the first of which is below, are large paintings. I am exploring further the abstract emotions of intangibility, fury, and mysteries of the land and its relationship to my own inner knowing.

After two weeks of painting it as shown above, I turned it upside down and that was a good decision. The intensity of the movement and expressive strength of the forms that resulted from rotating it was exactly what I was aiming for, but little did I know that I had been painting it upside down all this time.

I continued with it until I developed it further to the very end.

It is still unstretched, so when I stretch it it will lose a couple of inches from the edges, resulting in the final painting below:

all paintings © Ibn Bint Jbeil

This is the latest in this series:

all paintings © Ibn Bint Jbeil