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Objects of War 2000 is an installation that comprises a single–channel video, shown either on a monitor or projected, and thirteen miscellaneous objects. The video is a collection of interviews conducted by Joreige concerning the Lebanese Civil War which lasted from 1975 to 1990. Each of the thirteen interviewees was asked by the artist to talk about an object that had some significance for them during the war. The objects chosen include items such as a guitar, a wallet, a pack of playing cards and a bag with the Muppet character Miss Piggy printed on the front. Although seemingly banal, each object holds very personal memories and associations for their owner. The objects are displayed alongside the video in the gallery. The interviews are recorded mainly in French and Arabic, with English subtitles.
Joreige started conducting the interviews in 1999 and the work was first exhibited the following year. Objects of War is the first work in a series with the same title that comprises a further three videos along with their respective articles. The project as a whole examines the ways in which memory and trauma come to be embodied in material objects, sublimating the psychological affects of past conflict. In seeking to present an alternative history of the Lebanese Civil War to the one presented by the media, Joreige chose to record personal accounts of the conflict that would otherwise remain private. The conjunction of the personal and the political at a time of war is ironised in the title of the series; the term ‘objects of war’ usually refers to military machinery, weapons and ammunition, but in this instance describes everyday objects used by innocent civilians as sources of comfort during periods of crisis. For example, the artist Akram Zaatari talks in the video about his childhood in Saida, in southern Lebanon, and his refusal to join the militia. His chosen object is a cassette tape that he made in 1982 containing radio programmes he recorded, songs by the pop group The Bee Gees and the sound of gunshots from the streets. Joreige has stated: ‘by seeking such personal stories, I give a voice to those that have been ignored, to the stories that have been concealed.’ (Joreige 2006, p.241.) The artist has also explained that ‘these testimonials, while helping to create a collective memory, also show the impossibility of telling a single history of this war’ (quoted from http://www.lamiajoreige.com/installations/installations_objects.php, accessed 10 January 2010). When displayed in the gallery the artist stipulates that two or more works in the series should be shown together, enabling the viewer to understand the process and longevity of the project.
Joreige’s work navigates the vicissitudes of memory via the material traces of history. The social and political realities of life in Beirut, the artist’s home city, have had a profound effect on her work, linking her to other Lebanese artists such as Walid Raad (born 1967), Marwan Rechmaoui (born 1964) and Akram Zaatari (born 1966), all of whom are represented in the Tate collection, and whose work similarly reflects upon the Lebanese Civil War and its aftermath. These artists were also among the first in the region to begin making video art, a development that makes Objects of War especially significant to the emergence of contemporary art in the Middle East.
Suzanne Cotter (ed.), Out of Beirut, exhibition catalogue, Modern Art Oxford 2006.
Lamia Joreige, ‘Object Lessons’, Artforum, vol.45, no.2, October 2006, p.241.