LEBANON: Pop art meets guerrila war


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She turns the black-and-white photo of a militiaman into a glittery iconic figure combining a pinkish haze of artificial flowers, pearl necklaces and rubber dolls.

Through her art, Zena el Khalil says that she tries to convey the complexity and diversity of her city, Beirut, where posters of fighters, religious leaders and politicians are displayed next to images of sultry pop stars or models posing for lingerie ads.


Psychedelic, evocative and occasionally erotic, the work of Khalil, 32, is a reflection of her generation, which she describes as “global, superficial, consumerist, independent, with a short attention span and in search for instant gratification.”

Khalil begins with subjects charged with memories of war and violence and transforms them into eye-catching exhibits where bitter realities and rosy dreams become entwined:

I get my inspiration from walking the streets of Beirut. My work is reactionary; it’s a reflection of my life here, of our struggle on a daily basis to stay safe, be happy or even walk without falling into a pitfall.

This Lebanese artist, who was raised in Nigeria, moved at age 18 to Beirut, where she now resides and works:

“When I stepped in Beirut as a resident, I felt the need to document, collect and take notes of the city that was changing dramatically. I felt so much energy here. It was like a jackpot, so many things to draw, write about and photograph.”

Khalil has exhibited her paintings and installations in Lebanon, Germany, Japan, Nigeria and the United States. She will be exhibiting in October at London’s Flawless Gallery.


Raed Rafei in Beirut

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