Marwan Rechmaoui

Monument for the Living


Marwan Rechmaoui born 1964
Concrete and wood
Object: 2360 × 600 × 400 mm
Purchased using funds provided by the 2009 Outset / Frieze Art Fair Fund to benefit the Tate Collection 2010


Monument for the Living 2001–8 is a concrete cast of the iconic Burj al Murr building in Beirut, with all thirty-four floors scaled down so that the building is roughly life size. Worked onto the surface are the scars and attrition caused by recent conflict, and the placement of the building inside a coffin suggests a memorial-like state for this relic of the city’s past. Monument for the Living is Rechmaoui’s second replica of Burj al Murr. The first, created in 2000, was included in Contemporary Arab Representations, an exhibition curated by Catherine David that toured extensively in Europe. At some point in the tour the first Monument for the Living was destroyed in transit. This work is Rechmaoui’s recreation of the original.

Burj al Murr is a highly significant building in Beirut. Built in 1974 and owned by members of the el-Murr family, a prominent political clan, the tower was left unfinished when the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90) halted construction. Despite many renovations it has never been more than a concrete structure with unfinished interiors. Originally designed as an office tower, Burj al Murr became one of the most notorious sniper posts of the civil war, used by various factions because of its panoptical views across Beirut, which allowed occupying factions to dominate large parts of the city with a minimum of manpower. After the war ended, Burj al Murr was found to be both structurally deficient and in violation of numerous zoning laws. Though much of the downtown area was either destroyed during the war or razed during post-war reconstruction, Burj al Murr stands close to several tightly clustered neighborhoods that fall outside of the remit of Solidere, the real-estate corporation that directs urban renewal efforts in the city centre. The tower is too tall to knock down and too dense to implode, and so remains as a blight on the skyline and, for many artists and thinkers of Rechmaoui’s generation, an appropriate memorial to the fratricidal conflict that has never been fully resolved and has yet to be commemorated by any public gesture of reconciliation.

Rechmaoui was born in Beirut in 1964. He left nine years later, moving first to Abu Dhabi, then to Boston and New York. He began his career as a painter, exploring social realism and then abstract expressionism, developing an interest in architecturally informed sculpture and wall-based work after his return to Beirut in 1993. His work has been included in numerous major exhibitions, including at Townhouse Gallery, Cairo (2001), Witte de With, Rotterdam (2002), and the 7th Sharjah Biennial (2007). Rechmaoui is associated with the group of Beirut-based artists that includes Akram Zataari and Walid Raad (see, for instance, Raad’s My Neck is Thinner than a Hair: Engines 2000–3, Tate T11912). Rechmaoui’s work offers a significantly different position to his colleagues, however. While Rechmaoui confronts his viewers using only form, volume and space, the others make photo- and video-based works that delve into history and memory using documentary and archival practices that rely heavily on critical texts to generate meaning. Rechmaoui’s work has a tactile, material presence that typically addresses the architecture and urban environment of Beirut, offering a sculpturally convincing argument about the importance of the built environment in our understanding of history and modernism.

Following Monument for the Living, Rechmaoui continued to focus on the buildings and urban fabric of Beirut. He created a model version of Beirut’s Yacoubian Building, Spectre 2006–8, and extended this exploration to the mapping of the city in Beirut Caoutchouc 2004–8 (Tate T13192). Rechmaoui is also engaged in an ongoing project that involves the design and fabrication of emblems for the different neighborhoods of Beirut. His work offers a focused examination not only of Lebanese history but of the significance of the built environment to historical experience and its representation.

Further reading
Tamáss 1: Contemporary Arab Representations, Barcelona 2002.
Out of Beirut, exhibition catalogue, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford 2006.

Jessica Morgan
January 2010

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Display caption

This sculpture is a scale model of the Burj El Murr building in Beirut, Lebanon. The tower was owned by members of the el-Murr family, a prominent political clan. Construction began in 1974 but it was left unfinished after the outbreak of civil war. Originally an office block, it was only ever used as a sniper outpost. The tower is too tall to knock down and too dense to implode, and so continues to dominate the skyline. It is now seen as a memorial to the internal conflict that has never really been resolved.

Gallery label, October 2016

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