Akram Zaatari: The Script
Turner Contemporary, Margate and Modern Art Oxford
The Script brings together new and existing works by Akram Zaatari, an internationally renowned Lebanese artist whose work is tied to researching and studying the photographic record in the context of modern Arab societies. Zaatari is interested in the active role that photography plays in what he describes as "performed identities". In 1997 he co-founded the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut's leading institution dedicated to the study and preservation of photography in the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora, and for years Zaatari has studied the archives of Studio Shehrazade, a photography studio that operated in his hometown, Saida, Lebanon from 1953.
The Script focuses on Zaatari's interest in people's attitudes while filming or photographing themselves, an exploration that emerged from his research on vernacular and studio photography. Zaatari identifies recurring attitudes, fashions and forms of behaviour in front of the camera and how individuals choose to associate themselves with a social class, technology, modern values, or sometimes dominant ideologies. Zaatari considers those self-representations as performative narratives that start with studio photography and extend to YouTubing.
The exhibition features Dance to the End of Love (2011), a four-screen video installation comprised entirely of YouTube videos created and uploaded by young men from the Arab world. The videos, often fantastical, show individuals with super powers harnessing fire balls and lightning, footage of vehicles travelling on two wheels, body building displays and other playful scenes influenced by popular culture. Zaatari is interested in the distinct activities, actions or statements which people choose to share online, and how a "shared script" begins to emerge through the re-enactment of narratives. Once out in public, videos circulate among a global community. The videos are mirrored or re-enacted via a multitude of new uploads by new users who refine the script, thus collectively authoring this shared script along the way. While working on this new commission, Zaatari decided to re-enact a specific script that he has observed to be popular on YouTube in recent years - a choreography between a son and his father during prayer.
The exhibition also includes a series of studio photographs from the aforementioned Studio Shehrazade, taken by the studio's founder, Hashem el Madani, which explore the posed attitudes of sitters in Lebanon from the mid-50s to 70s.
The Script is a touring exhibition by New Art Exchange in partnership with Turner Contemporary and Modern Art Oxford.
Funded by Arts Council England and supported by Thomas Dane Gallery.
Image: Akram Zaatari, The Script, 2018. © Akram Zaatari