Upheaval of the present takes you back to nostalgia. Fragments of memories play in your mind. Incoherent thoughts edited. There is a certain place in the past where a part of you lived and no matter how far you have come, nostalgia takes over. It’s a romance with the past. These vintage images in black and white or in faded colors revived from imagination in full color. Vivid colors surface haunted memories of a buried past.
Raed Yassin was born in Beirut in 1979. He graduated from the theatre department at the Institute of Fine Arts in Beirut in 2003. An artist and musician, Yassin’s work often originates from an examination of his personal narratives and their workings within a collective history, through the lens of consumer culture and mass production. He has exhibited and performed his work in numerous museums, festivals and venues across Europe, the Middle East, the United States and Japan, including the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo (2013), the Beirut Art Center (2013), the New Museum in New York (2012), Kalfayan Galleries, Athens (2011), Museum of Photography Thessaloniki (2011); “Sharjah Biennial 10” (2011), Delfina Foundation in London (2010-2011) where he has completed a residency program, “Manifesta 8” in Murcia (2010-2011), Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (2011), De – Ateliers in Amsterdam following a 2-year residency, “Home Works 5” in Beirut, (2010) and Photo Cairo 4 (2008).
Yassin was awarded the Fidus Prize for The Best of Sammy Clark at Beirut Art Center’s Exposure (2009), the Abraaj Capital Art Prize (2012), the AFAC grant for production (2010), the YATF grant for production (2008 & 2012) and the Cultural Resource grant for production (2008).
Yassin is one of the organizers of IRTIJAL Festival, and has released 11 music albums and founded the production company Annihaya in 2009. He is also a founding member of “Atfal Ahdath” a Beirut based art collective. He currently lives and works in Beirut and represented by Kalfayan Galleries (Athens–Thessaloniki).
“Lebanon has long struggled to come to terms with the aftermath of its civil war (1975-1990)s. Violence has for the most part ceased, yet to date no culprits of the atrocities have been held accountable for their actions. An uneasy amnesia, and absence of historical narrative reigns in Lebanon in order to keep a brittle peace. In an attempt to formulate the cycle of this unaccounted history, Raed Yassin has chosen an unorthodox and innovative way of attempting to represent – ‘frieze’ as it were – important historical events of Lebanese contemporary history. His work struggles with the impossibility of reading things of the past in a comprehensive way. In China he shows seven Chinese porcelain vases, produced at Jingdezhen – China’s capital of porcelain. Depicting key battles of the Lebanese civil war, amongst others the War of the Hotels (1975-1976), the Battle for Tal al-Zaatar (1976), the Israeli invasion of Beirut (1982) and the so-called War of Liberation (1989). These vases are part-beautiful object, part-historical document, and part-mass-produced product. They echo the ancient tradition of recording victories at battle on vases and ceramics for the sake of posterity, as well as a domestic decorative readymade that can easily be found in any Lebanese home. Yassin decided to detail battles that were instrumental for territorial, demographic and political shifts, and whose ramifications are still tangible today. The circularity of the vases hint at an impossibility of closure – there is no beginning and no end when we view the vases, reflecting the unresolved situation in present-day Lebanon.” (the Abraaj group)
During the Lebanese civil war, photographs of birthdays and every day life taken by Raed’s family, like many others, were lost in the upheaval. In his embroidered work, he preserves these memories by stitching them into silk cloths with floral pattern highlighting the joy captured in that specific moment in time. Having grown up in a family of tailors, his father being a fashion designer, he opted for an artisanal method. “Silk is very fragile and delicate, which reflects the situation that I lived in and also the long Lebanese tradition of embroidery on silk,” he says. It took two years to recreate the most haunting snapshots he remembered from the lost albums.
Just as you can never go back to the golden age of Egyptian cinema, Yassin writes in a statement introducing Who Killed the King of Disco, “you can never go back to what happened when your father died, or piece together the facts that explain his murder in any concrete, accurate way.” The only things you can recover are “moments, possibilities and interpretations, all as fictional as the medium through which they are told. Nostalgia is a way into people’s imaginations. When I use old material, it really hits people and generates ideas.”
Mirage in desert, elusive and blurred, brings unknown emotions as pain and pleasure mingle. The past slays for attention while memories slay the war generation’s collective memoirs of a conflicting past. Rather than an abstract notion, this collective memory is a vibrant jumble of colors and cues of a buried past. Like a map with millions of pinholes, our lives are covered with people and places we have loved. Seen through the eyes of Yassin and felt through his heart are the things we will continually long for, the lost days of innocence mingled with the stealth of war.
This familiar emotion of delight his work brings to the public is strange and foreign, but in empty roads of memories, it’s a feeling you’ve never forgotten, the feeling of pain and fear mingled with a certain longing for a lost childhood and a lost life to an older generation, namely that of our parents. The physical degradation of these old photos like the abstract degradation of our memories of the war over time, are rendered visible by his work painstakingly stitching it all back together.