"We have embraced the multiplicity of our origins and the diversity in the way we each use the medium to reflect on our surroundings and our daily lives... to enrich a single holistic and global story that we are trying to tell: that of a loss, a struggle, a resistance, a hope, a love, a change, a stillness and a life in Lebanon".
They are Myriam Boulos, Manu Ferneini, Ieva Saudargaité Douaihi, Tarek Haddad, Rima Maroun, Roger Mokbel, Omar Gabriel, Elsie Haddad, Paul Gorra, Betty Ketchedjian, Laura Menassa and Walid Nehme. They form the 1200 Collective, whose joint work is on display at Casa Árabe from 1 June to 25 September, and which they themselves describe as a tribute and an anchor that reminds us of where it all began.
More than thirty years have passed since the end of the long civil war that devastated the country, and its repercussions are still being felt to this day. That long and bloody war was followed by years of economic, political and environmental failures, until the revolution broke out in 2019.
As two of its members and curators of the exhibition, Tarek Haddad and Betty Ketchedjian, state, "decomposition had risen to the surface and the population found itself with no savings, no fixed currency, no government, no one to take responsibility and a very uncertain future". As if that were not enough, the pandemic only made the situation even worse, paralysing all sectors and leaving little hope for recovery. And then, in August 2020, the inevitable happened, even though no one heeded the warning signs: Beirut was rocked by a huge explosion in the port, causing hundreds of deaths, thousands of displaced, injured and traumatised people, as well as the immense destruction of much of the capital.
What then seemed like a definitive blow was only followed by more disasters: accelerating inflation, fuel shortages, electricity blackouts, forest fires, gas tank explosions and a mass exodus of the population. What more misfortunes could befall the country that not so long ago was considered the Switzerland of the Middle East for its prosperity, cosmopolitanism and lust for life?
All these experiences are what the 1200 Collective captures in this exhibition: trees, broken glass, billboards, the port of Beirut and other elements are spread throughout the different works, acting as indications of the fact that, independent of the subjective and personal experience of each of the twelve authors, the broader story of the last few years in Lebanon has been common to the majority, despite the differences that exist in a society as multi-ethnic and multi-religious as the Lebanese one.
Among the statements of its authors, perhaps the one that best sums up the whole of this immense universe of experiences are those of Myriam Boulos: "It was all too much. It is still too much. The most important thing is what our little brains and big hearts can assimilate".
And it is no small thing to capture and assimilate in these photographic works the details of a corrupt country that has been in decadence for decades. And yet, despite this, its men and women reveal the desire to find their place in the midst of the confusion and chaos in which Lebanon is immersed. A reality that, according to Laura Menassa, we tend to hide or forget, but which nevertheless surrounds us.
The project 'Lights or shadows of what was and still is' was selected in the second edition of the NUR (Light) competition, a joint initiative of Casa Árabe and PHotoEspaña, which was created with the aim of rewarding innovative efforts in transmitting current content related to the realities of the contemporary Arab world. The jury chose this entry by the Lebanese Colectivo 1200 from among the 42 submitted to the competition.