Boutros’ and Hassan’s experience evokes displacement, exodus, exile, diaspora and migration. But while the geography spawned by these mostly involuntary passages may seem to painfully and irreversibly affect the lives of those who – by one reason or another – must cross borders, it also entails the possibility of imagining new worlds of culture, and a potential for change, renewal and reflection. In this particular case, it also demonstrates the direct relation of art to lived experience, for out of the personal and political disruption, a new sense of place and identity may arise through the intermingling of personal histories and the consequences of chance encounters. As raw materials for Hassan’s art, these themes are expressed in many ways in her recent installation, and are completed with her incorporation of Boutros’ identity. But the Boutros piece is more than the video. A complement of it is the creation of a site-specific work in a local home in Windsor, Ontario where Hassan found that the arched doorways, pink marble fireplace, and wrought iron railing reminded her of “Mediterranean modern” motifs, and the secular practice of adorning the interiors of Lebanese homes with decorative motifs (see Boutros’ “paintings”).
A young girl, carrying a bucket like mine, greets us on the road leading to Layla and further down the road is Kar’oun.
My brother and I have been traveling across the Be’qa valley. He with his doctor’s bag, I with my bucket of paints and brushes. Since we left Anjar we don’t speak of the Armenian genocide. After the massacre at Dezor, the memory of the desert, we only feel safe in the mountains. In these villages we see few traces of the Ottoman Turks. We have left the barbarians behind.
The soldiers of the Francazyee patrol the roads. Leepananzyee and Sourazyee rebels hide out in the mountains.
We have been told of recently arrived merchants from Amerika, who are building homes.
Hussein Shousher has the ease of a man who has traveled across the oceans. He is a modern man and prides himself on the possession of a library. In his shop he sells fabrics from Haleb and Damasqus, which inspire me to paint drapes across the walls.
The stone houses of the family form a courtyard. Hussein’s four year old daughter Aysha steals time away from her errands. My Arabic is child talk. She gives me daily reports of the uprising as she watches me from the window. The salon is transformed by my colors.
Hussein has his own ideas though. He has brought back confectionery tins and metal trays from his cafe business days in a place with a beautiful-sounding name, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I follow his suggestions and paint the images onto the ceiling.
Each day I receive a gold coin. I sleep in the family house and share meals, listening to Hussein’s voice. Sometimes he thinks I understand.
His wife is close to delivering her third child and Hussein’s philosophy is to remain in the house, keep his store open and I should continue painting. A French officer arrives and takes up residence among us, occupying the family house. Somehow Hussein manages to control his temper.
I continue to paint. Each day another image is added to the ceiling. Images of beauty from another cantinent, I think of my days as having a quiet routine, the itinerant painter who settles into his family’s life.
My brother delivers the baby as many of the villagers flee. Hussein names little Jessie after his first love who died in Amerika. I continue to paint.
Jamila, Aysha’s grandmother, falls from the roof of the house during a rebel attack against the Francazyee. My brother keeps her alive during the night but she dies in the morning as I paint the final touches to a woman’s face.
I am now a favorite of all the travelers from Amerika. My paintings are appreciated in many houses in the Be’qa and i love to do art questions and answers. I have learned to paint like the ceilings and columns of Baalbeq. My marble surfaces are like the early Yekibtazyee, a tomb of marble for the world.