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


Wassim said...

Wow...as much as I can admire art, since I'm a bit of an ignoramus on the subject, I say wow.

Eid Mubarak habib!

poshlemon said...

Dear Ibn Bint Jbeil,

I have read so much compliments from fellow bloggers praising you for being such a talented artist. Now, I can do the same. You are indeed an artist and a philosopher in your own right. It is very interesting to see how there is a story behind your work. My work does not. Many times I just paint for painting.

I especially relate to paintings nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 & 14. As a painter (more of an illustrator), I can verily agree with you on the idea you expressed in your statement of purpose: many visions, memories or images that linger in our heads are ambiguous. It is all about "exploring"; but sometimes, as an artist, that requires courage because when you explore, it's not just with the media... You actually dig deep down into old memories, images, sentiments... many things you wouldn't want to come out, to surface. When you "explore", you're being truthful to yourself.

Ibn Bint Jbeil said...

thank you wassim, but i do believe that even though you may not be a visual artist, you are a human being, which makes you an artist of some respect; this is the gift that allah bestowed us with, the gift of ibda3. so i would be willing to venture that you have some ideas about my work that can be expressed with more that "wow". so yallah, what do you think 3an jad?

posh, your words of understanding mean a great deal, thanks. so it seems you are drawn to the pieces that contain some semblance of representation, be they house, face, or figure. so it's funny that, as you can see, i am beginning to be pulled in a direction that is non-objective ya3ni completely non representational, or at the very least, primordial. primordial ya3ni because one may argue that even the most abstract imagery is drawn from an imagination of the natural. one may argue that any abstract work is still reminiscent of something, such as land in my case, or, as my professor suggested about the very last painting: bedsheets!

going back to the idea of nature and the primordial, i think that man-made things, from structures to objects to roads, in addition to figures of creatures and people, are what we recognize as our realm of reality. so one thing that i am struggling with is whether to retain at least one small hint of "our realm" in my paintings, as if the land exists in a post-human/animal state, or completely take the land back to pre-creature state, back to the most primordial memory in the deepest abyss of our collective memory. so for example, in 2, 3, 11, 12 and 13, i don't know if you noticed the aftermath of a passing jet plane in the sky. or in 2, 3 and 11, the slight hint of structural remnants, to varying degrees.

poshlemon said...

Ibn Bint Jbeil,

you are very fast at reading me :) Yes, I am more attracted to works of art that carry within manifestations and expressions of physical symbols. Be it that, I am also very intrigued by the uttermost abstracted version of these symbols. To make it simpler, the Expressionist, Surrealist and Cubist movements are what me and my work relate to. I guess that is why I felt more of an attachment with a certain number of your paintings - not to forget to mention that they are all great.

I think that we have different memories of the primordial state of a certain thing or being, so it is a matter only relevant to each individual and thus, it is significantly varying. If it is a "collective memory" of the pre-creature times, what do we know of it and how do we see it? For some, it may call for an inclusion of evident traces, and for others it may revolve around totally and completely abstracted forms as present in their minds and memories. The latter is more of a challenge because if one may be trying to reach out to an audience with a *specific* message, then the audience must have the sharpness and perception to grasp it, otherwise, you remain in a dialogue with yourself, which is fine if that is the sole aim of the painting. I personally do not think that each and every piece of art must have an obvious purpose or philosophy or raison d'etre unless the creator of this painting wishes so. And if so, the mind set of the painter is different and it is in a state of transposition. When addressing a "public", it no longer functions within the liberties of letting out one's heart/mind on canvas but it does so with reservation. When I say reservation, I mean in the sense that the painter no longer works freely and unconsciously but works within certain confines and pressures regarding the "public". What would you say?

Anyways, ack to what I said above, art is art and it is because it is. And who and what defines art? This takes us back to the subjective view... a very long and debated topic on its own.

Actually, in the paintings you named, I did not the aftermath of a passing plane and other discernible objects. In painting no. 14, I can see a ghost town, or a ghost... maybe a battle of the soul or the spirit.

poshlemon said...

Please correction: in the last paragraph, I meant to say that I *did see* the aftermath of a passing plane.

I hate typing mistakes and I hate it when I make them. I should have the patience to read through what I have written before I submit it :)

Wassim said...

ٍSorry for the late reply, yes there are things which I see or feel when I see those pictures. It's almost dreamlike but I have to say, the ones that caught my eye most were the ones where you have two apparently different faces joined together. I don't think they represent two different personalities, rather the same person seen in a different light or perhaps dimension.

My favourite, and decorating my desktop is number 8. I honestly don't know what it means apart from your description, but it strikes me as a mural of the people in our region, I liked the Oud player doing his part too ;) It's almost a parallel to the old Stalinist soviet murals you saw where all the workers and scientists etc were looking towards some bright future. I don't know what it is they are looking to here though, or why they eventually become faceless. A little help please?

Ibn Bint Jbeil said...


There is deffinitely an outisde audience beneath the artist's conscious mind, interfering with the artist's thought process or work process, even if some artists do not care to admit it. But to varying degrees and at different times, the artist is engaging this hypothetical audience by addressing it, suppressing it, engaging it positively, mocking it, etc.

If artists created solely for their own personal cathartic experience that involved no other soul at all and at no time whatsoever, art would not be as we know it, i think it would rather be an episodic and ephemeral process, both the process and the endproduct, because the artist would be creating for the experience and nothing else. To hold on to the piece and preserve it over time, and to be so specific about its compositional elements and obsessive about having it be "this way" or of "that style" or with "this symbolism" is very telling; it points to the fact that artists want to communicate something, not just experience making it and be done with it; something compels them so that they want to communicate themselves, through the piece, to the rest of the world, and bring themselves OUT to others, not just stay within themselves.

I know that many brooding artists care not to say so, but they create because they want a response of somekind, or to affirm some idea to the world.


the mural is about trasnsitioning from one existence to another, from rural to urban, from archain to modern, from east to west, from natural to industrial, from genuine to manufactured, from communal to corporate, from identifiable to melting pot.

the people in the middle (in transition) do indeed show the most specific individual identities, more than those on the right or left, because when in a state of transitioning, an immigrant or displaced community becomes much more self-aware of who they are, on a societal level as well as on an individaul level, and they affirm their identity and define it and redefine it, for a while, until such time as they begin to be lost or disintegrate into the new society, especially westeren industrial corporate consumerist society, which grinds them down into cogs that work within the larger juggernaut of anonymity, for the sole purpose of sonsuming and being consumed.

Ibn Bint Jbeil said...


so to continue with my point from my comment above,

yes the imagery, narrative and symbolism that i utilize sits on the cusp of identifiablity precisely because I want to say THIS or THAT, but am not exactly sure if the audience will understand, so i keep it vague so that it more or less drives the viewer to interpret or question, and engage in a dialogue about various interpretations, whether with the artist or with other viewers.

Wassim said...

This is fascinating, I never imagined paintings could say so much... I think I need to pay more attention to art!

poshlemon said...

Ibn Bint Jbeil,

enough is enough. You have been gone for WAY too long. Return.

M Bashir said...

Hello M

I have mentioned and posted one of the paintings above in a weblog for Global Voices Online, "Lebanon: Arts and Artists".


Ibn Bint Jbeil said...

thanks bashir. always feels good when you support arab artists by giving us exposure.

posh, i am here, just not here-here.

i am there, but without a word to spare.

i am neither here nor there, i feel a constant tugging at my hair.

i guess i'm a poet, and i didn't even know it.

most of all, i'm in a foggy bog.

poshlemon said...

Ibn Bint Jbeil,

thanks for your comment on my blog. I am replying here just in case you don't get to see my reply there :)

I know what you're talking about. Can I say that I have been there and maybe am still there?

I don't quite get what you mean about the whole blogging point you made but I think you should blog no matter what. Even if you are at a point where you feel you haven't got much to say. It is really relaxing to let it all out... to be the star of a place that only belongs to you... *please don't stop blogging when I had just started... please lol*

Back to you being so busy with so much... trust me, I know!!! You get busy here, there, everywhere and you get lost in it all and soon, you realize you've lost yourself in it all. But, I think it will all come back to you. You will be fine. You screwed up 13 canvases, so what?! You tried something, didn't work... move on to some new canvases! You know what, a good way to make all this hardwork seem easy, is thinking of the end result :) and knowing that you will make it after all.

am I too dramatic? Sorry, but this is how I am lol One day when you get to know me really well, you'll know what I mean.

poshlemon said...

And yes, there is a poet in you... along those lines.

Khawwta said...

Amazing, you're so talented.. the latest series, the 1 in blue is incredible...

Sophia said...

The last painting is beautiful both in its early and later, more abstract version. However, I prefer its early version, it is hesitant between abstraction and some kind of naturalism.

Ibn Bint Jbeil said...

hi khawta, welcome. thanks.

posh, but i did not screw up thirteen canvases, i actually screwed thirteen canvases together, meaning i assembled them together! now i am painting the thirteen canvases at once. the project not dead, i'm still working on it. i'll post a picture soon. and regarding the insanity that plagues us all, i'll bet i'm crazier than you, but how the hell would we ever be able to assess a comparison like that??

sophia, do you mean the very first image of it, the blue one? if so, that phase was just a quick sketch, maybe 20-30 minutes worth of work.. it was still very unfinished-looking. or do you mean the middle phase, where it was still greenish?

Sophia said...


I meant the first one, the blueish. I think it doesn't natter how much time you sepnd on a work of art in order to be art. What matters is the intention behind, the series of mental events behind the execution.

Ibn Bint Jbeil said...

eh mazboot sophia, bas ya3ni it's just a sketch ya3ni, so baddik yeni ma kammila? lezem kammila! i have to keep painting until every inch is deliniated wa2illa bif2a3!! well, maybe not with every painting. i'll post the newest ones in a couple of weeks. there's one that i am intentionally keeping very rough and textural.

poshlemon said...

Ibn Bint Jbeil,

AM I STUPID OR WHAT? Of course you wouldn't screw up 13 canvases lol Well, atleast I should get some credit for thinking I was cheering you up when actually all I was doing was exhibiting my mere stupidity ;)

good to have you back!

Ibn Bint Jbeil said...

poshy woshy, don't call yourself studpid. inti shattoora.

تأملات تافهة said...

سلامااات ابن بنت جبيل:

مش جهل و لا عصبية بس عن جد بيضيق خلقي لما اقرا انكليزي, كرمال هيك ما باقرا.
باعشق اللغة العربية و بصراحة كتير بانزعج لما لاقي المدونين اللبنانيين بأغلبيتهم بيكتبوا بلغات أجنبية, يمكن هيك بيجيبوا زوار أكتر و من كل البلدان بس أنا أبقتنعش!!!
بس حبيت خبرك أني مريت من هون و عجبتني كتير لوحاتك, هيدي شفتها و قريتها.

alzaher said...

تحياتي يا أبو وعد
إفتقدت تعليقاتك وكلماتك اللطيفة
رجاء قم بزيارتي في اي وقت تشاء وأعطني رأيك في كافة الموضوعات الجديدة التي قمت بإضافتها

your Angel said...

I should came across ur blog long time before..
My lost :-(
Wish u the best...

Ann said...

Hi Ibn Bint Jbeil,

Just stunning, these paintings are extraordinarily beautiful with a masterful use of colour. I would love to publicise them in a forthcoming post.

best wishes

A Lebanese-Australian.