Leila Heller Gallery in Dubai is showcasing the artworks by contemporary artist Katya A. Traboulsi. Her solo show Perpetual Identities will be on view until June 30, 2023.
During the Lebanese Civil War, in 1975, Traboulsi’s friends who were in militias gave her an empty mortar shell as a birthday gift; it stayed in her room as “trophy celebrating the courage of fighters or the defeat of enemies”, as the artist says. In 2014, when the war in Syria broke up, the memory of this object hit her again and inspired her to begin a series of artworks titled Perpetual Identities.
The series comprises 46 replicas of mortar shells used in the Lebanese Civil War. They are handmade, using various materials, such as ceramics, porcelain, resin, wood, and iron. Each artwork represents a different country and its history and culture. The project took Traboulsi four years to complete, as each of the 46 works took months of historical research, travel, and consultation with the countries’ native artisans who made most of the artworks. The artist also used local materials for each artwork: the white stone of Yemen, the pink granite of Aswan in Egypt, for example.
The project’s aim is to remove the primary function of a shell and transform this object of destruction into an object of beauty, an object of history which “can erase the impact of death, to talk about life […]”. Each piece reflects what Traboulsi calls the countries’ perpetual identity. She says that those who wage war want to erase an identity. “They can’t,” the artist adds. “[…] All those identities that I represent went through occupation and war, and they are still here, and they will remain in the future. It’s a perpetual identity. You can’t erase it.”
Apart from the works from the Perpetual Identities series, the visitors have an opportunity to look at Traboulsi’s collection of painted rear doors of trucks titled Rej3a ya mama. It is a reminder of the wait for the return of those who had to leave their homeland. The artist collaborated with the traditional creators of these designed rear doors to share their knowledge with her art. Each truck tells a story of life, beliefs, and love. This project also honours Tripoli, a city in Lebanon, and the truck drivers there whose work connects regions and lives.
About the artist
Katya A. Traboulsi (b. 1960, Beirut, Lebanon) lives and works in Beirut. From 1989 till 2016, she resided in Dubai, UAE, before coming back to Beirut. In Dubai, she held the “Katya Traboulsi Workshops” for young artists. In the role of artist as curator she also created the Generation War exhibit for the Beirut Art Fair (2013) and Pictorialism in Dubai.
In her work, Traboulsi tackles the effects of the Lebanese civil war, which she witnessed while growing up. Her artistic practice involves painting and sculpture. Using various media and bold colours, she disrupts the viewers’ expectations of the dark subject matter they are confronted with. The artist has published three books so far: “Of Others” (2011); “Generation War” (2013), in which she traces the story of photojournalists who witnessed the civil war during the 1980s; and Perpetual Identities (2018).
Since 1986, Traboulsi has her artworks displayed in different countries: the UAE (Dubai); France (Paris and Angouleme); Lebanon (Beirut); North America (Mexico); the USA (the International Armory Show, New York); Italy (Venice); Kuwait; and Algeria (the Algerian Museum of Modern Art). Her art is featured in private collections in Canada, France, the USA, the UK, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Lebanon.
To learn more about the Perpetual Identities exhibition, please visit its official web page.
You might also be interested in visiting Unframed by Nujoom Alghanem.