Every human has four endowments- self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom… The power to choose, to respond, to change. Stephen Covey
“The Power of…” a controversial photography exhibition by Lebanese artist Mohamad Badr were he recorded the spiritual rituals of “Ashoraa” in southern Lebanon city, Nabaiyeh, in 2011.
Badr’s lens bears witness a local tradition. Presenting two photographic projections and ten printed photographs taken during the 2011 Ashoura rituals in Nabatiyeh, south of Beirut in Lebanon alongside the actual tools employed by the participants in this ritual, ‘The Power of…’ will immerse visitors in this multi-level experience, transporting them to stand alongside those who engaged in the ritual and share their experience. Engaging visitors interactively, this exhibition asks the viewer to question this cultural experience and the form of power at play, ultimately questioning the very essence of power, how it manifests and influences and whether such power is a positive or negative force.
What might be considered by some as shocking is a simple and natural reality for others. The art of the image lies less in their ability to shock and more in the attempt to portray a reality that’s distinctly red and white onto the consciousness of the beholder. The viewer is unable to escape scenes of people powerfully self-flagellating juxtaposed with those willingly cut with razors upon their skulls, mourning women clad in black, falling tears and the unsettling stare of turquoise eyes that gaze through a blood stained face towards a different reality; a reality that both exerts power over yet also empowers them with the will to live through a bath of their own blood and the prejudiced eyes of the world.
Al Mahha on “The Power of…”
“The Power of…” was critisized a lot for its strong bloody images, some said “art should reflect happiness not tragedy” others thought it was an “intervention on spiritual believes and traditions of religious group”. While some disagreed with the entire idea for “exposing the bad side of Ashoura”.
To be honest, and frank, Mohamad had the braveness to excute this project which was nominated for the 2012 cycle of the ‘Prix Pictet’, the world’s leading photographic award in sustainability. He does not mean to show “the bad side” in fact there is no bad side in the annual rituals, Mohamad captured the beauty of practicing spirituality when all the tirness and hecticness is melted away for a greater believe.
A proof of what I felt is the look in the persons eyes, they were not feeling pain, but pleasure and pride for being part of Ashoura, a long waiting occassion where they cascade their love and strong believes in the event. Moreover, Mohamad was stating a fact, a reality that its believers know there is no shame in excersizing it publically, as Ashoura is done outdoors in the streets or mousques.
The sight of blood – a symbol of pain – and the look in people’s eys – pleasure – combined two contradictive elements that surely made all Mohamad’s artworks captivating, visualy strong and striking. He truly implements the saying “Pain is Beauty”.
“The Power of…” rises the questions: who has the power on our believes? Is it religion, politics or society? What is the power that controls our actions, and thoughts? Is it an inner power ones have or external factors?! Is it by force or feed to us?!
The exhibition is running until May 19 in Ayyam Gallery, Beirut, where a video installation about “The Power of…” is projected.