Before the Cypress Broke - Reflections of Lebanon

Updated: May 4

Growing up in Ireland, knowledge of the Lebanon was nearly always based on Irish contribution to Irish peacekeeping missions. It was a world similar to those who had grown up in the North of Ireland during a substantial part of the troubles. More recently, with the end of that countries civil war and the increase in emigration to Ireland as a whole Lebanon has become more familiar perhaps because of it's cuisine with Lebanese restaurants springing up in major cities across Ireland. It was perhaps because of this previous experience rather than in spite of it that a visit to the Void Gallery in Derry at it's new city centre location (more of which later) for it's most recent exhibition Before the Cypress Broke a series of works by Lebanese artists based on a recent catastrophe in Beirut the Lebanese capital, when a barrel of explosives went off because they weren't stored properly, resulting in the deaths 207 people, seven thousand people injured and three hundred thousand homeless.



The first thing you notice about this exhibition is a video which at first you might overlook, of a car journey taken on a single highway that connects the Lebanese border with Syria in the North all the way down to the border with Palestine in the south. It is this video by Stephanie Dadour which in many ways forms the soundtrack for the entire exhibition; the echo of the piece echoing through the entire space. Soon the noise stops sounding like something as mundane and everyday as the engine of a car; the sound begins to take on more of a sound associated with contested spaces like Beirut. The whirl of the blades of a helicopter overhead, the deafening sound of the aftermath of an explosion. It's fascinating how, in the right context every day can take on such a different and obscure identity. As the view continues to move through the exhibition space they encounter a series of prints; each one portraying a rugged desolate landscape, each one not exactly serene but yet containing an attractiveness all of their own. One in particular speaks volumes and in many ways displays the new reality of Beirut, the new beauty, the new existence. It reads, 'Your Fondness for Perfect Bodies is Sinister'. On so many levels this speaks volumes to this particular viewer. There is a rugged imperfect beauty about the landscape portrayed and also, this particular viewer, being someone who is seen as not having the 'perfect body' (then again what is the perfect body) a caption which reads 'Your Fondness for Perfect Bodies is Sinister', reflecting the modern day obsession with aesthetic beauty and questioning what exactly it is. Calling out the sinister quest for perfection in all things around us.Your Fondness for Perfect Bodies is Sinister. On so many levels this speaks volumes to this particular viewer. There is a rugged imperfect beauty about the landscape portrayed and also, this particular viewer, being someone who is seen as not having the 'perfect body' (then again what is the perfect body) a caption which reads 'Your Fondness for Perfect Bodies is Sinister', reflecting the modern day obsession with aesthetic beauty and questioning what exactly it is. Calling out the sinister quest for perfection in all things around us.


Further on a bit more and you encounter three works of engraved slate, each one depicting it's one separate message yet each one interconnected. "The Sky Today is complete", in other words our world today is complete and untouched; untainted, the second reading "Because The Cypress Broke", reflecting the catastrophe; the event that occurred that made the world imperfect, thirdly and lastly the inevitability of a broken world; "The Sky Today is Incomplete". Three very thought provoking statements, each one reflecting their own beauty and their own tragedy simultaneously.




The new space which has been newly renovated and occupied by The Void Gallery in Derry is a truly accessible space in every way. Right in the centre of town, as opposed to off a side street, and in the wake of the lamentable closing of the Warehouse Gallery (although work by various artists is still available at the existing shop, No.1 Guildhall Street), the Void's relocation is a welcome addition to city centre art life. Culture Journal Ireland looks forward to attending many more exhibitions in this excellent space in the near future.


The final and perhaps the most touching exhibit are eight images, every one with a similar look; every one reflecting anguish and despair. It is hard to do justice to the detail of these portraits, either in word or in image. At a time when people are being kept apart very few images scream out the need for human tenderness and compassion like these images.



It is a shame that this exhibition was on during a time of isolation, when everyone is discouraged from venturing out, and it is a true regret of Culture Journal Ireland that these works were viewed towards the end of their run. It would be appreciated if the artists who have taken the time to display these works, which can be viewed and purchased on each of the artists own websites and social media, would hopefully be able to return to these shores and display more work during a time when their work can be more widely viewed.


The new space which has been newly renovated and occupied by The Void Gallery in Derry is a truly accessible space in every way. Right in the centre of town, as opposed to off a side street, and in the wake of the lamentable closing of the Warehouse Gallery (although work by various artists is still available at the existing shop, No.1 Guildhall Street), the Void's relocation is a welcome addition to city centre art life. Culture Journal Ireland looks forward to attending many more exhibitions in this excellent space in the near future.

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