February 18, 2020
The exhibition brings together old and recent works highlighting present-day displacement conflicts. Some pieces tackle the migrants/refugees’ universal crisis fueled by poverty, failed states, civil war, politics, or economic failures; while others are highly personal and come from the artist’s own stories and experiences about expatriation. The collection revolves around memories (collective and individual) and how they’re altered by the movement of people and the change in societies’ ideologies and political tendencies. The title ‘Ecce Homo’ is Latin for ‘behold the man’, taken from the Gospel and used by George Grosz on his post-war Berlin works.
The Personal Story
The first part of the show takes up themes of exile and expatriation as existential reality.
Visual references are spread around the works, like pages of an ongoing diary.
‘Put it in a tin’ is a series of big bouquets in pots. Flowers and leaves are treated in layered images of coated memories while the pots they are planted in are various old tins of food taken from childhood references. These works deal with the struggle of questioning our own culture when faced with a new one and of tackling issues of identity when we are rewriting our own stories based on tainted memories.
The city works are presented like oriental traditional carpets, with the concept of cultural identity hovering from one visual reference to another. The canvas is treated as a fabric, a kaleidoscope of symbols. While playing on the idea of belonging to a complex background where different cultures meet and overlap, the work draws inspiration from the emotional, social and cultural baggage we carry with us when we find ourselves on the move looking for a new space we can call home.
The embroidery is a work that physically translates the concept of weaving many cultures together into one whole new object. The central piece is taken from a graphic memory of Beirut, produced in a London embroidery studio, and finally framed with an authentic, handmade and traditional embroidery produced in Palestine.
‘Identity is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature’ - George Orwell. The work ‘Legacy’ raises the question of collective identity as it transforms, every time we alter our individual memories through time and space. Maybe our perceived present identity is nothing but our subconsciously altered memories of previous generations that have been inherited, shifted, embedded, fragmented, buried, reconstructed and transformed until they finally form the current story of a certain population and the structure of their present-self.
The Collective Story
The second part adds perspective to subjects like demarcation, identity and humanitarian issues. This new series of paintings and etchings titled ‘Ecce Homo’ is directly inspired from Goya’s ‘Disasters of War’, ‘Los Caprichos’ and 'Witches'. It is a discourse with our humanity, in a time when conflicts, refugees and migrants, are debated as a political issue instead of a humanitarian one. One small detail of Goya’s work is removed from its original background and integrated into the chaos of today’s cities. The support itself, etching and aquatint on copper plate, is a manual gesture to close the loop of time, get back to the very same medium and technique used by Goya depicting the Spanish civil war, a reminder of how history sadly repeats itself.
‘Flies on the wall’ is a work that brings together 25 paintings on paper. We are witnessing an era where the common man’s reality has been thrown into the shock of raw human cruelty. In front of our eyes, victims are turned into mere numbers, falling in the thousands, losing their individuality, their breath, their human factors like Kafka’s Metamorphosis or Goldin’s Lord of the Flies.
The movie ‘Chronicles of a migrant’, is a short experimental animation, narrating the daunting trip that any migrant/refugee takes to survive. In the narrative, lays a tribute to thousands of Syrians who suffered internal displacement and violent deaths, as casualties of the armed conflict in a merciless civil war that wreaked destruction during the last decade. It reflects on the unfortunate urge of some countries to build walls again. This movie has been showcased in the 57th Venice Art Biennale in 2017 as well as the Imperial War Museum in London in 2018.
Born in Lebanon, in 1974, Zena Assi lives and works between Beirut and London.
She graduated with honours from l’Academie Libanaise des Beaux Arts (ALBA), worked in advertising and taught in different universities.
Her contemporary work draws inspiration from the relations and conflicts between the individual and his spatial environment, society and its surroundings.
The artist uses various supports and mediums to document and explore the cultural and social changes and put on record our urban contemporary environment’s imprint as well as the impact of our society’s ideologies and political tendencies. Her work takes shape in installation, drawing, etching, experimental animation, sculpture and mainly painting. Themes that are central to her vision include present-day issues, like migration and the relation between memories and people on the move.
Many of her pieces are repeatedly shown in different international auction houses (Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Phillips) and are part of various public as well as private collections (Academie Libanaise des beaux Arts in Beirut, Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah and Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris). Assi has exhibited in solo as well as collective shows across Europe, the Middle East and the United States of America including- Alwane gallery (Beirut Lebanon), Subtitled Apeal Royal College of Art (London UK), Artsawa gallery (Dubai UAE), Zoom Art Fair (Miami USA), Espace Claude Lemand (Paris France), Cairo Biennale (Cairo Egypt), Katzen Arts Center of American University (Washington D.C. USA), Rebirth Beirut Exhibition Center (Beirut Lebanon), Albareh gallery (Manama-Kingdom of Bahrein), CAP Contemporary Art Platform Gallery Space (Kuwait), Art13 & Art14 London Fair (London UK), IWM Imperial War Museum (London UK), IMA Institut du Monde Arabe (Paris France) and the 57th Venice Art Biennale (Venice Italy).