Meet the Lebanese live artist testing the limits of public space
Lebanese artist Tania El Khoury heads toward the small fishing port of Ain el Mreisseh in Beirut, a sleepy oasis behind the seafront’s bustling promenade. She warmly greets Adnan Al Oud, an older man who grew up on Beirut’s coastline and has been fishing here most of his life, and hands him a gift: a t-shirt bearing calligraphy that reads “This Sea is Mine.” It’s the name of a still-talked-about performance piece they did together three years ago questioning the increasing privatization of Beirut’s coastline.
The 32-year-old El Khoury, who splits her time between Beirut and London, is probably one of the only “live artists” in Lebanon. It’s a medium that, despite the country’s burgeoning contemporary art scene, has yet to take root. She focuses on site-specific works that straddle the line between art and performance, both in her solo creative endeavors and with Dictaphone Group, a collective she co-founded with architect and urbanist Abir Saksouk-Sasso. Together they work on projects which explore our relationships to the city and public space, with performances staged everywhere from a cable car to long-abandoned railway stations. “The notion of public space in Europe is very controlled,” El Khoury says. “In Lebanon, it has always been more of a natural relationship, but [changing] policies, this neoliberal economy, and all the illegalities that happened during the civil war have affected it.”