Deeper Dialogues: Akram Zaatari

DEEPER DIALOGUES SERIES: We take a look back at some of our most memorable ‘in conversation’ events and talks with internationally renowned artists and thinkers. First up, Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari in conversation with Anthony Dowling about his 2018 exhibition The Script.

We take a look back at some of our most memorable ‘in conversation’ events and talks with internationally renowned artists and thinkers. First up, Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari in conversation with Anthony Dowling about his 2018 exhibition The Script. His work is tied to researching and studying the photographic record in the context of modern Arab societies. They discuss capturing oneself in the age of excessive digital media in which 60 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, the culture of photography, the Arab image Foundation and why Zaatari calls himself a ‘Historian of visual culture’.

More on the exhibition:

The Script exhibition included Dance to the End of Love (2011), a large scale, four-screen video installation presented in the round. This 22-minute piece is made entirely of YouTube videos created and uploaded before 2011 by young men from countries such as Libya, Yemen, Palestine, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Given that YouTube was only founded in 2005 and engagement with the site was initially limited in the region due to bandwidth speeds and access to camera phones, Dance to the End of Love captures the early use of the platform in the Arab world. The videos, often fantastical, show individuals with superpowers harnessing fireballs and lightning, footage of cars travelling on two wheels, bodybuilding displays and other playful scenes inspired by popular culture. The piece is as much about the collective imagination of young Arabs as it is about the solitude of individuals seeking to connect through electronic devices.

Dance to the End of Love from akram zaatari on Vimeo.

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 certain narratives. Once made public, videos circulate among a global community. The footage is often mirrored or re-enacted via a multitude of uploads by new users who refine the script, thus collectively authoring it along the way.

As well as Dance to the End of Love, NAE also commissioned Zaatari to create an entirely new piece. This became The Script (2018), an eight-minute single screen video piece, located upstairs in the Mezzanine Gallery. For the commission, Zaatari proposed a work which continued his observations of online societies and reflected what he perceived to be more recent trends in YouTube video content by practising Muslims. Potentially a means of countering the misconceptions of the Islamic faith and the rise in Islamophobia fuelled by recent terrorist attacks and other political events, Zaatari observed a new wave of YouTube videos depicting modest, everyday and loving acts often involving faith and family. Of particular note was the recurring footage of fathers fulfilling their duty of salāh (the five daily prayer ritual) whilst their mischievous children attempt to disrupt their concentration playfully. Rather than using this YouTube footage directly, to create the artwork, Zaatari referenced a selection of videos as source material and developed a storyboard that focussed on the choreography within the clips – the actions, movements and gestures.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.

**Images for The Script here**

Further resources

– Akram Zaatari: Reframing the Public Perception of Muslim Identities, Kaddish Morris, Frieze Magazine – ‘YouTube, for Akram Zaatari, is a garden which he regularly visits and observes. Scrolling through pages of the video website as if strolling through the grounds, he scans then picks the most compelling clips, later arranging them for study or display’.


– https://artreview.com/reviews/ar_october_2018_review_akram_zaatari/

– Akram Zaatari interview on BBC World Service

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