Rola Khayyat

My interest in the intersection between art and war developed out of a personal experience, which continued to shape and inform my academic and artistic sensibility. Growing up in the context of the Lebanese civil war, it naturally took some time before I could patch together aspects of my childish sensorium to compose a “memory” of war that I could identify and express artistically. Driven by a desire to aesthetically grasp what I came to understand to be the defining condition of my visual life-world, I developed a picture of war in the child’s imaginative laboratory. After the civil war ended in 1990 and my childhood quietly receded into more distant wor(l)ds, this “memory” of war that I had sutured from the fabric of experiences and stories began to take on a texture of its own, embodying and splicing with multiple perspectives and narratives that have come to define my current work.

Beirut, a city that has been the site of perpetual war(s), is replete with a host of material and immaterial divisions that I have attempted to capture through my photographic lens. Sectarian divisions in Lebanon have manifested along ideological and political fault lines that have long shaped everyday urban practices in the cityfrom private to public spaces. Since the end of the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), the infamous "Green Line" that once divided (Christian) East Beirut from the largely (Muslim) West has proliferated into many smaller "green lines" in the psyche of the Lebanese peoples. In a situation where the arena of private life is entirely mediated by confessional belonging, these ephemeral mental borderlines have had material consequences that continue to shape everyday life in the post-war city. Lebanese citizens are invariably bound up in this intangible oscillation between presence and absence—the dialectic of remembrance and forgetting. 

My work examines a number of material and immaterial borderlines that have come to define the contemporary geography of the cityin this particular case, Beirut and its peripheries: those that have been constructed along sectarian and religious lines, and others that remain subtle, always in flux. My inquiry into the dialectics of war and memory approaches the concept of religion and sect as an urban practice. My photographs examine how these conceptions of religious and sectarian differences shape the urban spatial practice and experience in the city, creating a separate and idiosyncratic imagery within the fabric of a city. Through such an approach I am able to explore new dimensions on representation of war, time, memory and identity—a snapshot of a city in constant flux, abandonment, reinvention and change.

Rola Khayyat is a Lebanese artist and curator. Rola’s work explores dimensions on representations of war, memory, and identity, giving insight into oft-neglected facets of normal life during wartime. She has worked with art spaces such as Art Laboratory Berlin, and has curated projects such as the BEYroute show for the Thessaloniki Biennale in both Lebanon and Greece. For the past two years she’s been teaching art at the American University in Cairo. She has a background in History from the American University of Beirut, and artistic training from the Florence Academy of Art in Italy. and twitter @rolakhayyat