Karla Calviño Carbajal
Corrections to the English. Leslie Mazoch
« It’s better being happy than sad », the great Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes would say in one of his tunes as a way of revealing our persistence to impose happiness on the substantial sadness that involves life. Marwan Moujaes, Lebanese artist of the surprising age of 28 years, after living the experience of war in his country, adventures himself and his work into defeating this humane imposition of happiness. And Marwan Moujaes does it with a wide, varied, consistent body of work: images from NASA showing the sun’s activity in the precise moment of a chemical attack in Syria; a bouquet of flowers that covers and discovers the picture of two kids’ corpses impersonally numbered 54,55; recreating a minute of silence on a cassette in tribute to the deads; savoring candies with the honey of the beehive that the artist placed outside the forbidden Jewish cemetery in Beirut; a figure sculpted by submerging melted lead into the waters of the Litani river; confronting the heroic pitch of a song about the Arab victory in 1956 to the diminutive melody of a music box… and more.
It is always necessary to say something more about this young artist who has been working with strength and talent, as these two traits are multiplied by his discipline and effort. From his exhibitions in Lebanon and France, like in the 61st Salon de Montrouge, to his work as an artist and researcher at the École supérieure des beaux-arts de Valenciennes. His entry into the Sorbonne’s doctoral college with a project about mourning in the arts that could be interpreted as an exercise in self-consciousness about his work, which I enjoy reading with a certain degree of revelation and legacy for those who make and think art.
However, like in all inspired and confessedly sad individuals, not everything is so serious. Thosewho know Marwan well have experienced his witty and sharp sense of humor. It is precisely there, in his permanent ingenuity and witticism, where I find the intrinsic sense of his work. I also find it in his childhood in the countryside and in his life with artist Maha Yammine. From all of this is born something that reveals the work of Marwan Moujaes: time and nature, two components of life and art. Repressing sadness for a period of time and modifying the internal nature of life by imposing happiness doesn’t make us better or happier.
Then the Brazilian poet completes his musical sentence: « It’s better being happy than sad… / But to do a samba with some beauty / A bit of sadness is necessary / If not, we do not do samba ». There is so much to learn from mourning, from loss. There is so much produced and created by the eruption of sadness instead of apparent hapinness. Since Plato and Aristotle’s controversy over the liberating power of catharsis, since the Romantic poets nourished themselves with an unrealizable love and its profound melancholy, since we had the Middle Ages and the mundane pleasure that Bakhtin described as the origins of popular culture, since Viktor Shklovsky revealed to us that art discovers the objects that have remained in darkness, since the European thought (Nietzsche, Bergson, Freud, Ricoeur …) opposed to rationalist thinking and the Enlightenment fora more free and intuitive human being, since Susan Sontag went to Sarajevo and asked herself about our emotional and human dimension when facing others’ pain… All these ideas and questions are somewhat proposed by Marwan Moujaes’s work, because anyone who gets close to understanding something well can only do it in the form of a question.
Amid all this, Marwan Moujaes comes again with a subtle gesture of extreme delicateness: retrieving a drop of wax from an uncountable number of Parisian churches in order to mold one single candle, one common light from all the lights and shadows, of all dreams and prayers of the city of Paris. What do the inhabitants of this inmensurable city dream during their sad days and nights? What do they wish for and express in the beauty of the shapes that proceeds from their impenetrable nostalgia, their almost religious melancholy?
The meeting of West and East, Lebanon and Paris, art and the world, war and peace, news with our inability to astonish, the giantism of the heroes and history with our unavoidable humane smallness, you have been molding your work, drop by drop, Marwan Moujaes, with effort and discipline. You have been creating a new and old myth: that artists work and smile. Do it for you self, Marwan Moujaes. Let there be, for you and your work, light: Fiat lux.
Marwan Moujaes by Marie Cantos
Art Critic and independent curator
“The real tragedy is bearth”, he explains with gentle irony. It has to be said that tragedy lies at the heart of Marwan Moujaes’s line of thinking: in the conflicts of the Middle East, whose history – or rather histories – he re-visits; in his actual approach and method, nurtured by ancient Greek theatre. Unity of time, place and action. Sphinx-like questions, with no answers. Cathartic dimension. Violence, guilt, Excess, too.
The artist’s works use codes to create, in the onlooker, the need to, in his/her turn, shed the weight of fate. Physical restrictions are at work, without us paying heed to them, having an influence on the protagonist subtly shaping a space within the exhibition. We are submerged by the video installation 40 mourning days (2015- 2016), a ready-made video coming from NASA and showing the sun’s activity from the 21st of August 2013 at 3.15 am – the alleged time of the first deaths following the chemical bombardment of Gotha, in Syria, which caused between 322 and 1729 victims – to the 3rd of October 2013 at 3.15 am, forty days later, forty days of mourning before the soul leaves the body, it is said, and, above all, before the body start its decomposition. We walk around 54,55 (2015) several times, to try to glimpse that press photograph hidden by a bunch of flowers, choreographing, in front of the installation, the legitimate delay between the need to inform and the indecency of showing.
Marwan Moujaes’s work scratch like Antigone trying to bury her brother in a ground that is as hard as stone. To initiate the surface of things, and try to shed light on the different layers of memory and ward off the amnesia of human beings by tirelessly reproducing the same schemes. So in the video installation Bien-être (2016) the perfume of an Eau de Cologne painfully brings to life an old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s: it is the smell of dead people being washed, like Antigone on her day. In response to the artist, one thinks of Pierre Fédida writing in L’absence (1978): “Mourning really sets the world in motion.”
Marwan Moujaes par Marie Cantos pour le 61e Salon de Montrouge
« La véritable tragédie, c’est la naissance », confie-t-il avec douceur et ironie. Il faut dire que la tragédie est au coeur des réflexions de Marwan Moujaes : dans les conflits au Moyen-Orient dont il revisite l’histoire – les histoires ; dans son approche même, nourrie de théâtre antique grec. Unité de temps, de lieu, d’action. Questions sans réponse, sphingesques. Dimension cathartique. Violence, culpabilité. Démesure, aussi.
Les oeuvres de l’artiste utilisent ces codes afin de générer, chez le regardeur, le besoin de se départir à son tour du poids de la fatalité. Des contraintes physiques s’opèrent sans qu’on n’y prenne garde, influant sur les protagonistes à l’écran, modelant subtilement le parcours au sein des espaces d’exposition. On est submergé par la projection de 40 jours de deuil, vidéo readymade provenant de la Nasa et montrant l’activité solaire du 21 Aout 2013 à 3h15 – heure supposées des premiers décès suite au bombardement chimique de Gotha, en Syrie, qui fit entre 322 et 1729 morts – au 3 Octobre à 3h15, quarante jours plus tard, quarante jours de deuil avant que l’âme ne quitte le corps, dit-on, et, surtout, que le corps ne se décompose. On fait le tour de 54,55, plusieurs fois, pour tenter d’apercevoir cette photographie de presse cachée par un bouquet de fleurs, chorégraphiant, devant l’installation, l’atermoiement légitime entre nécessité d’informer et indécence de montrer.
Les oeuvres de Marwan Moujaes grattent comme Antigone tentant d’enterrer son frère dans un sol dur comme la pierre. Pour entamer la surface des choses, tenter de mettre à jour les différentes strates de mémoire et conjurer l’amnésie des hommes reproduisant inlassablement les mêmes schèmes. Ainsi, dans l’installation vidéo Bien être, le parfum d’une eau de Cologne anime douloureusement une vieille femme atteinte d’Alzheimer : c’est l’odeur des morts qu’on lave, comme Antigone en son temps. En réponse à l’artiste, on pense à Pierre Fédida, écrivant dans L’Absence (1978) : « Décidément, le deuil met le monde en mouvement. »