MANAL ABU-SHAHEEN

ARTIST STATEMENT

I use photography to filter my experience of my two cultures.  I was born in Beirut in 1982 at the height of Lebanon’s civil war.  A few years later my mother, who is American, insisted our family move north to escape the violence.  I was raised in my father’s hometown, Amioun, in the postwar environment of the 1990’s.  During that time, the fragility of peace was palpable and the reconstruction of downtown Beirut dominated the news.  In 2000 my parents separated and I relocated to the US with my mother.  Having a footing in both places has shaped my perception of cultural power dynamics, from international politics down to individual relationships.

For the past two years I have been photographing landscapes in Beirut.  My recent work focuses on the ways in which globalized communication brings idealized images from one culture in contact with the realities of another.  Motivated by a lack of visual history of the landscape in Lebanon, I am building my own photographic archive of what Beirut looks like today: a city dominated by billboards.  In one sense the advertisements serve as a visual indicator of capitalist growth, and in another they purport a mythologized western ideal that is incongruous in the post-conflict city.  Hovering monumentally above the developing landscape, depictions of western men and women offer luxury products that have become locally available in recent years.  Advertising functions best when it couples the attainable with the unattainable—the unattainable in this case, is the idealized culture of another civilization.  The advertisements and pervasive neo-liberal capital represent a contemporary form of colonialism.  This under-documented place is now occupied by images of a different place and people.  What is new and fascinating to me about this system is that it employs images as its most powerful tool.

www.manalabushaheen.com

CV