Akram Zaatari @ Thomas Dane

I first learnt about Akram Zaatari at last years Venice Biennial. The lebanese artist’s video installation was one of my favourite pieces of the festival so I was excited when I heard of a London show this year.

The show, which is split between two galleries in Mayfair focuses on archival images which seems fitting as Zaatari is the co-founder of the Arab Image Foundation. A 38 minute film is displayed in a cinema setting showing interviews of people associated with and descendants of those at Studio Sheherazade in Saida. It was a place where people could dress up and temporarily escape civil war. The film is extremely personal, with many of the story-tellers featured having grown up around the studio, now seated in their homes, reflecting on its history and the photographs taken there.

In the next gallery, are iPad videos and black and white photography of women with slashes thrashed into them. I am not sure why these images have been marked in such a way, yet perhaps it says something about the women in the portraits. There are also identity photographs and family images, which are much like images in my mothers photo albums of my ancestors in Beirut.

There are also black and white images of young Arab boys posing with a cut-out of a blonde western woman. I found these the most interesting as they seemed to idolise the model, putting their arms around her and kissing her cheek. Maybe Zaatari is questioning the relationship between the west and the arab world.

The show is both analogue and digital, beginning with archival images and ending with lcd screens. The photographic studio introduced in the first gallery is replaced by digital technology in the next. Perhaps Zaatari is trying to remind us what we have lost when we gained this new technology.

Akram Zaatari: On Photography, People and Modern Times is on display at Thomas Dane Gallery until 1 February

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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