Tania el Khoury

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.”

The impetus behind This Sea Is Mine was borne out of El Khoury contemplating Beirut’s many beach resorts, which mushroomed during the civil war and have blocked public access to the sea. “This was the first high-rise to go up in the area,” she says, pointing to a dominating apartment block towering above. Al Oud helps us into his small fishing boat, his face browned from the sun, a cigarette hanging from his lips. We trace the same strip of coastline the pair covered in their 2012 performance, when Al Oud took audience members out to sea to witness El Khoury swimming, clutching a sign that read “This Sea Is Mine,” and sharing stories about how the private resorts managed to block the sea, before attempting to swim into one for free. One beach club initially tried to prevent her from entering, then decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and took to ignoring her presence. Reactions from the greater public were varied—some beachgoers offered encouragement while others were more disdainful. “There was one man sipping on a cocktail at Sporting [Beach Club]. The woman next to him asked if I was part of Greenpeace. He said, ‘No, she’s just here to ruin our day,’” El Khoury says with a laugh. “In some mainstream media they said it was a protest. You can call it a protest or performance. If you know the language of live art you would say that. I think it’s a little bit of all of these.”

Now, she sits on the bow of the boat, passing a line of beach clubs backed by the chaotic sprawl of the city. “They all put borders in the sea, it’s insane,” she remarks, looking over to the orange buoys that mark the boundaries of the American University of Beirut’s ocean space.

The research that goes into each project is extensive, the materials they produce always written with an awareness of accessibility. For This Sea Is Mine, El Khoury and Saksouk-Sasso mapped Beirut’s coastline and documented the checkered history of its ownership in booklets, which were then distributed among fishermen and around the city. “It’s academic research that everyone can understand. It’s about us learning from different communities, and working with, not about, them.” This important facet thus morphs their work into civil activism. The research for This Sea Is Mine helped form the basis for a campaign to save Daliyeh, a vast space by the sea, privately owned but publicly used for centuries and now set for private construction.

Later, on the busy terrace of a café in Beirut’s Hamra district, El Khoury sips an espresso as she recounts how her theater degree wasn’t quite fulfilling, finding herself critical of a form that was based on a spectator setting. It wasn’t until working on her master’s in performance making at Goldsmiths, University of London, that she began to find her own voice through interactive performance. “I’m not interested in passivity,” she says firmly. “I’m more interested in a collaborative relationship with the audience where power dynamics are on the same level.”

And perhaps it’s because her pieces draw from everyday experience that audiences connect so powerfully to them. Sparked by a deep political and social awareness, El Khoury uses individual narratives to tackle subjects such as the concentration of power, state violence, borders, gender dynamics, and the idea of “the other.”

One of her earliest performances in London was Jarideh, or “Newspaper,” an experience in which unsuspecting strangers in a public space become participants in an elaborately designed spy thriller. The performance was inspired partly by Britain’s Metropolitan Police report on how to spot a terrorist. “It was ridiculous because you can’t ‘spot a terrorist.’ It was racial profiling.” Having grown up in a country with 18 officially recognized religious sects—making it one of the most diverse societies in the Middle East—El Khoury often weaves this notion of “the other” into her work. “Obviously it’s through experience that I felt like the other, but also when you’ve placed yourself in your own performances, you can’t really not think about that. It’s about placing your body in different locations and how that is visible or invisible to different people.”

Her 2014 piece Gardens Speak, exploring real stories of oppression under the Syrian regime, is El Khoury’s biggest to date, and she is still touring it with performances planned around the world. Working with Syrian writer and activist Keenana Issa, El Khoury created a garden with speakers entombed in the ground that projected first-person narratives of Syrian citizens’ deaths—stories Issa collected from Skype interviews with surviving family members. “The idea came to me when I realized that some people in Syria are buried in gardens; [they] don’t get rid of their oppressive regime even after they die.”

“Most of the people who were working on the sound were Syrian—some of them were even friends of the characters,” El Khoury adds. “It was the most difficult project, but we want to tell their stories.” She commissioned a designer to create wooden tombstones with the names of the martyrs, and now carries them with her in a bag as she travels the globe to exhibit her work, leaving them behind in each country. “It’s a symbolic idea to plant them in different soil around the world,” she says. El Khoury is also gathering letters written to the martyrs from audience members. After translating them, she’ll send them to the families of the deceased.

It’s here, where the boundaries between art and real life blur, where El Khoury’s work has a profound impact. “I’m interested in writing history from below,” she says. “In how we can record what is happening and be actively part of writing our own history.”

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less

Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

Keep Reading Show less

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet