Marwan Rechmaoui

Beirut Caoutchouc


Not on display

Marwan Rechmaoui born 1964
Object: 30 × 8250 × 6750 mm
Purchased using funds provided by the Middle East North Africa Acquisitions Committee 2010


Beirut Caoutchouc is a large floor-based rubber map of the city of Beirut. The expanse is embossed with roads and highways represented in precise detail. It is segmented into sixty individual pieces following the division of neighbourhoods in the city, yet when it is exhibited the map appears singular and complete. Consequently Rechmaoui’s installation examines the physical and social formation that make up one of the world’s most conflicted cities. However, other than the demarcations of roads and neighbourhoods, landmarks or specific points of identification – including the green line that divided Christian and Muslim communities during the Lebanese civil war (1975–90) – are absent, mapping a terrain empty of the political and religious divisions that have characterised the city’s recent history. The artist’s use of rubber stresses the city’s resilience, despite human and natural threat, while it also provides a durable surface for the viewer to walk across, initiating a personal encounter with both the artwork and the city it represents.

Speaking about the significance of mapping and architecture in his work Rechmaoui has stated:

For me architecture is a very clear expression of urban life … It’s a way to talk about demography, migration, borders and behaviours. The link through all of my work is the history of this place and how it moves … If I lived in London, I’d work on London, as a space. So it’s not Beirut itself but what’s happening in this place. It’s the exchanges and the inheritance of things.
(Quoted in Wilson-Goldie 2010, accessed 26 January 2016.)

The work has been made in two versions, both editioned although this version is considerably larger. Beirut Caoutchouc also relates to another work by Rechmaoui titled Untitled 22 (The Arab World) 2001. This is a wall piece, made from coarse black rubber cut-outs, in which the different countries that make up the Arab League are placed at a slight distance from one another to accentuate the politics that divide them.

Marwan Rechmaoui was born in Beirut in 1964. He left the city nine years later, moving first to Abu Dhabi, then to Boston and then to New York. He began his career as a painter, exploring social realism and then abstract expressionism. But after his return to Beirut in 1993 Rechmaoui developed an interest in architecturally-informed sculpture and wall-based work. His work has been included in numerous major exhibitions at Townhouse Gallery, Cairo 2001, Witte de With, Rotterdam 2002 and the Seventh Sharjah Biennial 2007. Rechmaoui is associated with the group of Beirut-based artists that includes Walid Raad (see Tate T11912) and Akram Zataari (see Tate P79396P79512, Tate T12891, Tate T12974 and Tate T14276). Rechmaoui’s work differs significantly from his contemporaries who primarily use photography and video, delving into history and memory using documentary, archival practices and writing critical texts to generate meaning. Rechmaoui, instead, confronts the viewer using only form, volume and space. His work has a tactile, material presence addressing perceptions of architecture and the urban environment across time.

Further reading
Tamass 1: Contemporary Arab Representations, exhibition catalogue, Witte de With, Rotterdam 2002.
Out of Beirut, exhibition catalogue, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford 2006.
Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, ‘Marwan Rechmaoui’, Bidouin, Spring 2010,, accessed 26 January 2016.

Jessica Morgan
October 2009
Revised 2016

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