Beyond the Archive
Beyond the Archive: Paintings by Reem Bassous
Hawai‘i-based artist Reem Bassous’s new work presents her interrogation of a post-Lebanese Civil War existence, where cultural erasure and assertions oscillate under prolonged political instability. As a survivor of the Lebanese Civil War (1975‒1990), Bassous unhinges the memories from her youth and explores the contemporary implications of historic unrest by situating her personal experience in a national trajectory.
Instead of recounting the past in archival detail, Bassous has re-conceptualized the human figure as the personification of her generation and as her home city of Beirut, in an effort to describe the shared trauma of a locale and its inhabitants. Bassous’ ghostly figures dissolve into the very material of which they are made, just as Beirut bears the scars of conflict, both ancient and recent, having been built and rebuilt over time—a history that informs the artist’s painting process. Bassous renders the ways in which political crisis is internalized through the use of thick layers of acrylic that blur the distinction between interior and exterior settings; patches of sky and architectural motifs disrupt otherwise domestic environments.
This series echoes the disillusionment caused by recurrent upheaval, and it underscores the artist’s desire to interpret history as a way of stabilizing the present. In Beyond the Archive, Bassous confronts the impact of protracted sectarian strife upon the identity of person and place by shifting focus away from an isolated moment in the crisis toward the effects of long-term social conflict endured over many years.
- Healoha Johnston
“No longer posthumous, the survivor is not an overliver who aimlessly questions the significance of his brute survival, but rather a witness who knows too much, carrying the weight of an unwelcome knowledge gathered from within war and crisis that challenges the official closure of the present to the unfinished past.” - Walid Sadek
by Aiya Bettinger
I am birthed into a world of cinderblock
Cages, they are
Gridded, tiles on the floor under society’s
Feet, they are
Trodden, branded blue with the banners of the benevolent
And they dance with the dust in
Cloth-footed warriors, clad in plastic weapons of war
They know no better.
Their mothers, skinless creatures of ruin,
Arms wide, they greet us in tongues
Foreign but familiar, forgotten, fading
Like the writing on the wall they plead with me,
Gentle cries of the un-gentrified that nobody else will hear,
Rendered deaf by torpedoes, explosions of white noise to block out the sobbing.
It is hot as sandpaper musings threaten to imbibe me
And they do,
Ramshackle breaths feed
When heat turns to flame turns to ash
I am unprepared
Torpifying tortured lungs
Coughing black blood
Burning like flame- sharper,
They are needles, poking and prodding and praising “habibi”
They are claws.
Until suddenly pain has a name and it is “Go Home!”
What is home?
I have no home
And so I make one in the tear gas,
In the blue bands of the benevolent,
Becoming a tin man,
Huddled in pockets of ocean,
Flashbacks of lightleaks onto frozen extremities
And orange graveyards.
Clutching the key of return close to my heart
I curse the friendly dark
For being silent.
*Marhaba: Hello in Arabic
*Habibi: A term of endearment which means my sweetheart