A Museum of Immortality Ashkal Alwan & eflux - Al Khidr Lives
I first came across the mystical figure of Al Khidr in the short story Muneera written by Khaled Al Farraj (1929). I quickly found out about his cult following on Kuwait's Failaka island and in Bahrain, where shrines were built by his purported footprints. Women would sprinkle rose water at the site of his shrine with the hopes that the sweet water would bring sweet news of pregnancy.
Although Al Khidr appears in the Quran's Surat Al Kahf as the wise servant of Moses, there was a fatwa issued against his shrines and they were repeatedly rebuilt and demolished. Across faiths and cultures, saintly figures appear to assuage our anxiety about death and longevity. Al Khidr's precursor appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh as the eternal Utnapashtim. He is the Green Man in Celtic lore. He is Elijah of the Torah. St. George the dragon slayer, who is resurrected four times, is widely revered and even referred to euphemistically in Lebanon when we say that one who has gone mad has "gone to Al Khidr."
In this homage to him, with artist Gráinne Hebeler, we created an image of the Green Immortal linking together cross-cultural rumors about his appearance and powers. We placed these across the floating city of Venice in contextually relevant places with the intention of keeping the multiplicity of his legends alive.
These images, along with a number of artifacts and texts, were displayed in a glass coffin as part of a Museum of Immortality at Ashkal Alwan. Summer 2014.
The Museum of Contemporary Ancient Arabia (NYU Abu Dhabi) -
The Origins of Social Media in the Arabian Peninsula
We often reiterate things we know already, as opposed to introducing any new information into our online social circles - sharing things about our current mood, what we're eating, where we are going, what we are selling or buying. I find the way we use hashtags, tweets, statuses, etc. to be rather absurd in their trite, pithy manner. However, this is anything but a novel development, as I found out researching pre-Islamic inscriptions from the Middle East. Our ancient ancestors, in a variety of languages such as Nabatean, Safaitic and Cuneiform, used to inscribe rocks, boulders, walls and caves with their emotions, daily events and lists of goddesses, in a fashion uncannily alike to the way we use social media. Millenniums ago, they etched mundane sentiments such as "he fed on truffles and he grieved for Yd" and "the goats have bourne young amidst the new growth" in public space.
When I was in Bahrain, a place that felt quite saturated with history and covered in many layers of covered-up protest graffiti, I was inspired to re-introduce some ancient inscriptions from the Middle East in a number of sites, almost like they were online status updates. I sourced quotations from texts such as the Epic of Gilgamesh ("And when shall the dead see the rays of the sun?"), the Quran ("so that you may live forever"), and the Bible, placing them in context-relevant sites such as near the Bahrain Fort, the Saar temple, on a 5,000 year-old burial mound from the Dilmun civilization and in an arts district in Manama. In some cases I translated the quotations into Arabic, in others I re-wrote sentiments in my own words, coining phrases such as "immortality fixation" and "#Dilmun," inspired by Gilgamesh's wish to live forever.
Crisis of History Tolhuistuin Museum -
Don't Let This Be a Record of Our Time
Don't Let This Be a Record of Our Time
Cuneiform on 3D printed sandstone
Don’t Let This Be a Record of Our Time or The Cyrus Cylinder – King Cyrus of Persia or ‘Cyrus the Great’ is credited with the first human rights charter, which he had inscribed on a stone cylinder and placed as a foundation stone of a main temple when he conquered Babylon. In this project, I use a 3D printer to recreate the cylinder – which in its modern iteration is inscribed with the Wikipedia entry for The Avenues Mall in Kuwait, translated into cuneiform.
"There is a celebratory mood about the age of social media, where each person can address a seemingly unlimited audience. It is argued that advances in information and communications technology have broken the physical barriers to communication, and some speculate that a new human society, globally interconnected, is emerging. The Kuwaiti artist Liane Al Ghusain, in her research on ancient rock and clay inscriptions from the Iraq and Saudi-Jordan deserts, discovers, however, that social media isn’t just connecting us to each other: it’s keeping us in touch with our ancient past. The purpose and tone of many of these ancient inscriptions is very similar to the messages conveyed by Twitter, Facebook and public service announcements today: they contain little valuable information and are characterized by self-congratulatory exclamations and empty threats.
In response to these phenomena, the artist has translated trite yet trending topics and promotional material from Gulf social media directly onto 3D printed ‘stone’ in ancient Arabian script with the hope of reviving interest and investment in the Middle East’s ancient past. These new inscriptions go directly from the printer into a museum display case, as a commentary on how slowly the ethics and values of world civilization have evolved, despite huge leaps in technology."
- Robert Kluijver
Comissioned for the Crisis of History exhibition
curated by Robert Kluijver for Framers Framed and Tolhuistuin – March 2015, Amsterdam
X Apartments Ashkal Alwan - Coco's Bed
'Coco's Bed' is a short film created for viewing on the iPad mini, commissioned for the X-apartment installation series by producer Matthias Lilienthal. X-apartment audience members follow Hassan, the protagonist of the film, to his own apartment where they find him in the flesh as well.
'Coco's Bed' was available on view for three days in July 2013 in the Bourj Hammoud district of Beirut. The neighborhood began as an informal refugee camp for Armenians fleeing the genocide in Turkey. It now additionally houses a large and diverse population of immigrants and asylum seekers from countries including Syria, Ethiopia, and the Philippines. The project was covered by Kaelen Wilson-Goldie at Artforum International.
A collaboration by Stefan Tarnowski, Liane Al Ghusain, Noel Paul and Mazen Khaled.
Kuwait ABWAB Pavilion - Dubai Design Week
As part of Dubai Design Week, research was carried out about the history of games in Kuwait and interpreted into a small exhibition, designed to be a modern take on Ayoub Hussein Al-Ayoub’s book Our Traditional Kuwaiti Games. More can be read about the project on Art Kuwait, Dezeen, Design Boom and the official Dubai Design Week website.
In the Eruptive Mode Sabab Theatre - Styling
I styled the 2016 iteration of "In the Eruptive Mode" a Sabab Theatre work which performed in Kuwait, Tunis, Beirut and Metz.
Given that the show was about failed uprisings and hijacked revolutions, told from the perspective of 6 different female characters, I set out to communicate a sense of suppressed expression and covert rebellion.
Dressing the women in all black, I created no separation between them and what is known as 'stagehand' attire - seeing as, in accounts of contemporary Arab history, women remain equally invisible as those moving set pieces in the darkness between lit scenes.
As the stylist I commissioned masks by artist Deena Machina Qabazard which appeared to muzzle the protagonists when they were at the peak of their expression.