October 26, 2016
Ain't Nowhere To Hide
In 2011, Tagreed Darghouth presented Canticle of Death. This solo exhibition at Agial Art Gallery in Beirut, consisted of two series of paintings, apparently independent and ultimately linked by the idea of death: nuclear weapons and skulls. Skulls are not something especially new in art history. In the 17th century, French, Spanish, Flemish and Dutch still life masters applied their virtuosity to depict these anatomical shapes inside compositions that included a multiplicity of objects related to arts, science and wealth. These were the vanities, symbolic artworks taking their name from a verse in the Ecclesiastes: Vanitas vanitatum dixit Ecclesiastes vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas
The Vanitas allege that everything, except the love of God, is futile. In opposition with these sophisticated accumulations, Darghouth’s skulls do not cohabit with anything. They float over an abstract pattern composed of flowers, stars, leaves or dots. Their sinister and frightening presences convey a fundamental menace towards humanity and should be seen in accordance with what (or who) the young artist previously painted. In 2010, Darghouth showed Fair and Lovely, a series of portraits of domestic maids. Fair and Lovely also included pictures of women having been subject to plastic surgery. These were already the main topic of Mirror, Mirror!, in 2008. From Mirror, Mirror! to Fair and Lovely, Darghouth was revealing the Lebanese society through its extremes: foreign workers – let’s not say slaves – who only exist to serve their masters, and plastic surgery, very popular among the same masters of these workers. We have a confrontation between the inexistent body and the transformed body that attempted to defy time and death. In this perspective, the Vanitasis an absolute and definitive response.
The skull is also in dialogue with earlier paintings, the Broken Dolls. These disturbing creatures, somehow reminiscent from the Surrealist movement and from Marwan Kassab Bachi, who exerted an important influence on Darghouth, were exhibited at Beirut’s Goethe Institute after the 33 days war Israel ran against Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Between the Broken Dollsand the skulls, spreads is a direct lineage of annihilation materialized by the dismantled body. “My subjects come from a personnel anxiety”, says the artist. “This anxiety, overshadowed by the question of death, is related to my personal experience of war”. Born in 1979, Darghouth grew up in Saida, near the Palestinian camp of Ain el-Hilweh. “Our house was a little paradise, with a garden, but this paradise was under permanent threat: There was a luggage near the door, filled of necessities, always ready, in case we had to escape”. Interestingly, at least two other major Lebanese artists shared a disquiet youth in the same neighborhood. Hanibal Srouji spent his childhood in Ain el-Hilweh. During the late 1960s and early and mid 1970s, he witnessed the increase of military activities: “this part of the country became a regular target of random Israeli raids. Nobody, or very few, cared about the fate of the locals and the refugees living in a world of fear and misery completely alienated from the seeming normalcy of the capital city”. Saida, also home of Akram Zaatari, is largely present in his work. Saida, June 6 1982 (2009) is a large composite picture depicting a landscape of hills under the bombs of the Israeli air force, on the first day of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Tagreed Darghouth, who is younger than Srouji and Zaatari, needed more time to become fully conscious of her unease. “The 2006 war made these ghosts emerge”, she explains.