Manal Abu-Shaheen visited York to talk about the inspiration behind her photography exhibit. Photo Credit: Danielle Cruz
By Danielle Cruz
Manal Abu-Shaheen appeared at the Fine Arts Gallery at York College on Sep. 28 to discuss her photography exhibit that featured photos she had taken during her travels to Beirut, Lebanon.
The photos lining the walls of the exhibit displayed a city filled with attractive males, females and addictive products all advertised on huge billboards. One ominous photo showed the window of a hotel room completely covered with an ad of a man staring directly into the room, omitting privacy and comfort. It blocked out any view of Beirut life. Another photo showed a pile of rubble and standing above was an image of a new interior home design complete with a fireplace.
The exhibit, entitled Beirut, opened on Oct.14 and was made up of 27 photos taken by Abu-Shaheen, a Beirut native. The photos, which were all in black in white, varied in size but showed that Beirut became a city filled with larger than life advertisements that show and promote a sort of idealized western culture.
Abu-Shaheen was inspired by the “monumental scale of the advertising” in Beirut and wanted to capture the city’s massive advertising structures, she explained at her artist talk on Sept. 28. The contrast between the city’s architecture and the billboards captured Shaheen’s eye.
“It made me think about how these idealized images from one culture were interacting with the reality of the developing urban landscape,” said Abu-Shaheen.
She started the project when she thought about how advertising works and how it usually depicts something attainable and unattainable – whether it be the models perfect looks or the perfect homes or cities. In Beirut she said she saw that the “unattainable are truly unattainable” because they show western cities and models in a Middle Eastern country.
Art major Tenzing Tsalior Baro said that she found the art exhibit very interesting and loved how the pictures seemed to “depict a culture that has specific dreams and ideals about western culture.”
Some of the prints displayed in the exhibit were of proposed plans of reconstruction in Beirut. The plans called for the city to be filled with more western looking buildings. One photo shows a company’s proposed building whose architectural structure is similar to some found in western cities, while another shows plans for construction of a new mall with more westernized shoppers in the stores.
One of the main focuses of the pictures were the stark contrast between the advertisements and the buildings. Beirut is still in an era of reconstruction with buildings and homes left unrepaired from damage done during their Civil War of 1990 and damage done during recent years by bombings.
The advertisements are placed in areas that seem desolate or destroyed. Especially in one photo which shows a building with a crumbling and ruined exterior that is covered by a gigantic ad promoting a liquor.
Saira Chaudhry, a grad student from John Jay who came to view the exhibit, said that she found it eye catching and said that the photos gave her a sense of hope, but showed a stark contrast between their reality and the outside world.
“In every photo there is something that catches your eyes and exudes a sense of hope,” said Chaudhry. “I have never seen a gallery that has depicted such a change it really shows a shift from modernization to demodernization.”
The exhibit ran from Sept. 14- Oct.13 in York’s Fine Arts Gallery, but more of her work is posted on manalabushaheen.com.