Make art, not war

“I think these were specifically for Achrafieh residents,” says Zeina el-Khalil of a cartoon flyer dispersed in Lebanon by Israeli fighters during the 2006 war. The parchment depicts regional leaders - including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - tooting horns around a cedar-embossed vase, of which a caricature of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in the form of a snake emerges.

“It was a propaganda tool,” she says. “I was intrigued by the pink paper, because it was an insult to my intelligence, in addition to all the other routine violations of Lebanese sovereignty by the Israeli state.”  

These rosy leaflets are Khalil’s main source of inspiration for her solo exhibit, “Ou Ali Mama3ou Khabar” (“And Ali has no idea”), on display at Hamra’s Espace Kettaneh Kunigk art gallery until August 13.

This latest effort is a reflection of the London-born artist’s tendency to mesh colors and mediums such as keffiyehs, beads, fabrics and plastic toy soldiers. Besides creating interesting work that combines mixed media and installation, Khalil is the author of “Beirut, I Love You,” a novel based on her blogging of the July 2006 War. The book became an instant hit and was featured in various media including reports by The Guardian, CNN and the BBC. 

“I first created this one,” says Khalil, pointing to a large replica of the original flyer. Under her scrutinizing hand, the dull monochromatic background has become colorful, fuzzy and inviting. To the left, another replica of the flyer depicts Nasrallah and others amidst sparkles and fluorescent shades of pink and green in a forest-like setting, thus conveying a somewhat psychedelic attribute to the work.

“There’s lights, it’s a bit trippy, maybe they’re consuming a bit of LSD,” she says. “The more I paint, the more they grow out of context. It’s my way of resisting, through love. I feel that love is the most powerful tool.”
The final pieces of the series were completed during the week of the flotilla attack, four years after the project began. It is proof that Khalil’s work is intrinsically related to her emotions during political events.

“This time, I chopped up the flyer, and the characters are all on a ship heading to Gaza,” she explains. However, despite its light-hearted appeal, Khalil insists that her creations are tedious and require meditation.

“The importance is the flyer, which is the aggressor and what matters is the process of healing,” she says. She did not use glue for any of the collages, but push pins. “There is a process of repetition, and I use these shiny materials, because things that shine reflect light and represent the closest description I have to God,” says Khalil, who describes herself as a spiritual person.

In addition to the flyer-inspired pieces, Khalil highlights another series of frames that feature words in capitals such, as “Goat,” or “Coriander,” upon a similarly-colored background. These seemingly random words are actually civilian goods prohibited from Gaza by the Israeli government.  “A lot of people don’t know about this list that was supposedly loosened after the flotilla attack,” says Khalil.

Although two separate incidents, the artist does not feel the July 2006 War and Gaza should be clearly demarked. Although some people might disagree about her associations, Khalil feels she cannot differentiate between the two. “I’m reacting to my environment; what started in 2006 continued in Gaza, during the bombing of 2008. It continued with the flotilla attack last May.”