Artist + cultural activist
Artist, Cultural Activist, Writer
Studio Ziggydoodle, xanadu*
A'Salaam Alaykum: Peace Be Upon You An Interactive Sculptural Installation by Zena el Khalil A'Salaam Aleykum: Peace Be Upon You was the third of the four events that featured in the Fondazione Merz's "Meteorite in Giardino 2", a visual arts exhibition curated by Maria Centonze in 2009 and titled after a work by Mario Merz, dated 1976. The "basin" outside the Fondazione- which is the space that was used as a container for the tanks of the former heating plant- hosted a cycle of installations. The installation displayed the word "Allah" in Arabic letters: a rotating 4-meter-tall sculpture made of glass mirror tiles reflected the lights from the pink spot lights placed on the borders of the Fondazione's outer basin. The installation included a DJ set by Ayla Hibri, who recreated the atmosphere of the Beirut nightclubbing scene, and was completed by a screen projection of images celebrating everyday life in Beirut. Visitors took part in the performance, dancing as if they were in a real disco. *** ARTIST STATEMENT *** "There is a thin line between reality and dream. The problems with trying to live in a post war city are many. Nothing works the way that it should. Not even the people. We live under the threat that at any time, things could flare up again. We live under the constant humiliation of the horrible things we did to each other only a few years earlier. I remember the stories of the Holiday Inn Hotel. It is one of the highest buildings in Beirut. During the civil war, it was taken over by a militia who found it trendy to throw people off the rooftop and try and shoot them in mid air. Today we stand side by side as we wait in lines to get into nightclubs. We dance a lot in Beirut. Dancing, it seems, has become a form of healing. Dancing, it seems, helps us to forget why we turned against each other. As our bodies move together in small dark spaces, we begin to realize that flesh is flesh and we are all the same. As euphoria takes over, we try to forget why we used religion to kill. Why we found each other so different. I am searching for a God that transcends boundaries. I invite you to come and dance. To forget what tears us apart and remember what brings us together. To attempt forgiveness. Welcome. Peace Be Upon You." -Zena el Khalil, 2009 This installation was realized in collaboration with Galerie Tanit in Beirut and Munich. video documentation soundtrack (in order): . El Shams Ghabet Anouha'ha by Asmahan & Farid al Attrash . Ana Mish Kafir by Ziad Rahbani . Azza by Y.A.S . Kol I Banat Bit Hebback by Houssam Husni .Paper Planes (Afrikan Boy & Rye Rye mix) by M.I.A
Based on her heartfelt memoir, "Beirut, I Love You", is the story of Zena; a Lebanese artist whose reality pits friendships, love and art against the ever-present threat of war. The shortfilm is a journey guided by her voice and presence, through her city and country, still showing scars of the civil war and shaken by the Israeli 2006 invasion. In Beirut you live like there is no tomorrow. Any moment, the bombs could start falling again.
Lebanese artist, cultural activist and author of Beruit, I love You. Zena el Khalil, born year of the Dragon, has lived in Lagos, London, New York City and Beirut. A visual artist, writer and cultural activist; she holds a Masters of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in NYC and a Bachelor of Graphic Design from the American University of Beirut. El Khalil works in a variety of formats ranging from painting, installation, performance, mixed media, collage and writing. Themes that are central to her work include issues of violence as well as gender using materials found throughout Beirut. Photocopied images of militiamen and women, civilians and family members are embellished with everything from plastic flowers, glitter, strings of lights, colored keffiyehs, plastic toy soldiers, toy AK-47s, arabesques, beads, fabrics, and other objects that best convey the diversity and chaos of the city she takes her inspiration from. At best Zena’s work is a creative offering she makes to help maintain balance and order in the world around her. She believes that every form of creative invention is evidence that a person is spiritually alive. That it is a valid human experience; a true moment, a word, a sound, an act, a sculpture- all the process of being alive; all the affirmation of existence. El Khalil has exhibited internationally, including New York, Miami, London, Paris, Tokyo, and Dubai. She has also held solo exhibitions in Lagos, London, Munich, Turin and Beirut. Her recent exhibition, “Ou Ali Mama3ou Khabar” was commended by the Freedom To Create Prize and went on a global tour with the Prize exhibition. She is the first Lebanese artist to be a finalist for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize. Zena also conducts a yearly performance entitled, “The Pink Bride of Peace,” where she participates in the Beirut International Marathon wearing a big pink wedding dress. She uses this opportunity to pair up with local NGOs to raise awareness on issues in Lebanon pertaining to animal rights, civil marriage, and to spread love, peace and positivity in a region that is volatile and unstable. The performance started in 2003 and continues to this day. Zena el Khalil also actively promotes emerging and under-represented Arab artists through several projects like xanadu* (xanaduart.com), based in Beirut, with a small extension in NYC, of which she is a founder and co-director of. xanadu*, a non-profit art collective, began in New York City as a direct response to the 9-11 attacks; el Khalil set up this platform to help give a voice to artists during a time of extreme xenophobia in NYC. In 2006 in Beirut, she organized the first art exhibition to only exhibit young women artists, in partnership with the International Museum of Women’s program Imagining Ourselves, of which she was part of their Global Advisory Committee. She was later instrumental in producing the first magazine dedicated solely to comics and illustration in the Middle East, Samandal. Most notably, she co-curated “Nafas Beirut”, an exhibit that opened one month after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon ended in 2006, featuring works made during the attacks. Also in 2006, el Khalil began a blog at the start of the Israeli invasion from her apartment in Beirut, beirutupdate.blogspot.com. It was a humanist personal account of the siege on Lebanon that lasted for 33 days and its impact on her and the people around her. It quickly received international attention and was highly publicized on news portals such as CNN, the BBC, and The Guardian. Her writing was also included in the anthology, Lebanon, Lebanon. In May 2008, el Khalil was invited by the Nobel Peace Center to participate in a panel discussion on freedom of expression over the internet. The seminar was organized by the Norwegian Board of Technology and The Nobel Peace Center and the panel discussion included Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. Soon after, Zena completed her memoir entitled “Beirut, I Love You”, now translated into several languages and currently being adapted into a screenplay to be directed by Italian Gigi Roccati. El Khalil is regularly invited to lecture about her artwork, book and activism. Some events include, The Guardian Hay Festival: Segovia, Spain; the Edinburgh International Book Festival, UK; the Hay-On-Wye Festival of Literature, Wales, UK; and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) UK. El Khalil is also often in the media and her work and projects have been covered by The New York Times, Al Jazeera, CNN and the BBC to name a few. Zena lives in Beirut with her Jack Russell Terrier, Tapi. She once held a brown belt in Shotokan karate and participated in national competitions while she lived in Nigeria as a child. She believes that listening to Fela Kuti’s music as a teenager helped her develop into the international rabble-rouser that she is today. Her daily mantra is Gandhi’s “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Her artwork can be viewed online at zenaelkhalil.com.
Anything vegetarian! But especially fattoushe (Lebanese salad with sumac and pomegranate syrup), batata harra (Lebanese spicy potatoes with coriander), and my husband's red wine risotto!!!!!!!!!!