Rabih Mroué, who lives and works in Beirut, Lebanon, is an actor, director, playwright and visual artist. His latest Vancouver-based exhibition, Nothing to Lose, is a video installation that raises questions surrounding fabricated truths and unreliable narratives within the context of the Syrian Civil War.
The exhibition, presently at grunt gallery, emphasizes recorded documents – both textual and photographic – and the ways in which stories are constructed, captured, and shared: stories about the Syrian revolution, the missing person, and the martyr.
One of the videos, Shooting Images, depicts a subject using a mobile phone as a recording device and eventually recording his own death as he is targeted and shot by a sniper.
“Syrian protesters used the mobile phone as the only tool to tell us what was happening at the beginning of the revolution in Syria,” says Mroué.
He states that the regime is frightened by the mobile phone and its ability to capture these events.
Mroué considers Shooting Images as a footnote to his larger work, The Pixelated Revolution, which Mroué refers to as an ‘un-academic lecture.’ After showing in 2012, The Pixelated Revolution showed at this year’s PuSh Festival for a second time.
Art is political; it is not activism
Art – a term that eludes a simple or absolute definition – is inherently political according to Mroué. However, he feels that his artwork should not be considered as activism because that would suggest that he has answers or that he has a conclusive message to share.
“Every artwork is political. The artist cannot run away from the fact of their work being political, but I don’t believe in the artist as activist,” he says.
For Mroué, art is meant to ask questions where there are no answers, where there is uncertainty; it should encourage viewers to think and to have a conversation.
“Art shows human fragility and doubt. The artist questions him or herself. We are intellectual beings, and what distinguishes us from animals is our mind and the ability to ask questions,” he says.
A significant theme in Mroué’s work, and one that he contemplates in the video On Three Posters, is the individual’s attempt to affirm his or her identity and personhood. He expresses that in Lebanon society, which is very patriotic and religious, individualism is not fully realised.
“The religious sects are in constant conflict, fighting for power and authority. The individual citizen is lost among these conflicts,” he says.
A stranger in Lebanon
Mroué describes Lebanon as a very small country with a communitarian society and states that there are very few streets in Beirut where you can enjoy yourself as a stranger.
He feels that Vancouver is one of many larger cities where the size and density of the population make for a shared unfamiliarity. He feels that in Vancouver one can go unnoticed and therefore not be identified as an outsider. Mroué explains that this is very different from Lebanon, where there are certain areas that are very closed.
“When you enter these places, you feel immediately like a foreigner. There is suspicion. It is as though you have trespassed into someone’s home,” says Mroué.
While Mroué identifies the prevalence of closed communities in Lebanon, several of his works consider the case of the missing person as an evident contradiction to this authority.
“In a country where everyone is supposed to know everyone else, how can people disappear? There are cracks and fissures through which people slip,” says Mroué.
Nothing to Lose is at grunt gallery until Feb. 8. Please visit http://www.grunt.ca for further information.