Houda Kassatly's Lens: Capturing Lebanon's abused heritage

Kassatly described her photography style as simple and clean, with no photo editing or cropping. This serves to preserve the subject’s human dimension.
by Christy-Belle Geha

15 February 2020 | 15:43

Source: by Annahar

  • by Christy-Belle Geha
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 15 February 2020 | 15:43

Photo by Houda Kassatly exhibited in the "Dalieh, the threatened shore" exhibition. (HO).

BEIRUT: Over the past 30 years, Houda Kassatly’s camera lens has captured Lebanon’s abused heritage and environment. 365 of these photos are currently being showcased in five different exhibitions at the Alice Mogabgab Gallery, Achrafieh.

“Why is the country slowly vanishing thirty years after the end of the Civil War? Isn’t the end of a war supposed to be a new beginning? We wanted to look closer at what led the country to hit rock bottom,” Alice Mogabgab, owner of the Alice Mogabgab Gallery, told Annahar. “We deeply reflected on how to combine art and the October 17 revolution in our gallery. Houda Kassatly’s photography is in perfect accordance with what Lebanon is currently going through, considering that she started photographing corruption, the country’s destruction, and its collective memory at a very young age. We picked her artwork for a year-long exhibition, ramified in five themes." 

In the first exhibition "Dalieh, the threatened shore,” on view until March 21, hundreds of snapshots of the Raouche Rocks dominate the gallery's walls. These photos reflect the algae linked to water pollution and human destruction of natural landscapes.

“You see in Houda’s photographs the beauty of simplicity and normality. Her photographs echo children’s laughter, and women's chats,” said Mogabgab.

The Alice Mogabgab Gallery showcased the same shots in 2014, back when stacks of huge cement blocks occupied the Dalieh shore site in an attempt to privatize urban commons and hinder public access to the sea. The event led to the eviction of a number of fishermen and the closing of several restaurants.

“The Dalieh shore battle is a successful battle against corruption. We can now witness the revival of this battle in the national campaign that aims to protect the Bisri Valley,” highlighted Mogabgab.

The privatization of the city’s public maritime domain of the Dalieh affected the site’s ecological wealth, diverse topographical, and geological features.

“I started taking shots of Beirut's slow 'disappearance' until it reached ultimate absence,” Kassatly told Annahar.

Photo by Houda Kassatly exhibited in the "Dalieh, the threatened shore" exhibition. (HO).

As an ethnologist, Kassatly has long been interested in Lebanon’s cultural and environmental heritage.

“We cannot look at our history without examining the issue of the refugees, from Armenians, Palestinians, and Syrians. The country never managed the refugee crisis,” emphasized Kassatly, speaking about the second exhibition “Refugee’s camps, the unsustainable precariousness,” which will run between April 7 and May 23.

“What is provisional for some, is permanent for others, so I thought of collecting and documenting this memory,” she said.

Mogabgab concurred, adding that many people prefer to stay blindfolded in front of the refugees’ issue.

“Some even told me they wouldn’t come to the refugees’ exhibition. See how hostile people can be? Art has to reduce hostility,” said the gallery’s owner.

The third exhibition, “Tripoli of the Orient; Plural City,” is scheduled to take place between June 9 and July 25. Kassatly explained that this exhibition reminds her of the late journalist Samir Kassir.

“Samir Kassir, my former editor at L’Orient-Express, and I had plans for a project about Tripoli. Kassir is gone, but I revived his will to highlight Tripoli’s rich heritage, which is also my will,” Kassatly told Annahar. 

Kassatly described her photography style as simple and clean, with no photo editing or cropping. This serves to preserve the subject’s human dimension.

“I only use my camera, and pay meticulous attention to the natural lighting,” she said.

The cluster of shots around Tripoli’s heritage will be followed by a fourth exhibition, “Sacred Trees, Sacrificed Trees,” between September 15 and October 31. The last exhibition will take place between November 10 and December 26 and is titled “Beirut, the Iconography of an Absence.”

“Beirut remains the guideline for my work,” said Kassatly, smiling.

She added that she complements her photography work with academic publications and research.

During the opening ceremony, Kassatly launched a book titled “Of earth and human hands, the construction of a Syrian domed house,” in collaboration with Arcenciel and the British Council. The book focuses on the traditional houses in the region, their architecture, and their structure. It also allows people who read it to re-create domed houses, if they follow the technical steps included in the book.

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