Camille Zakharia’s metre-and-a-half square artwork, Out Done, is a collage of time and distance, memory and presence. To make it, the Lebanese artist cut up 36 photographs of the stained-glass ceiling of Bait Al Quran, a museum devoted to the Quran in Bahrain, where he has lived for many years. Painstakingly carefully, he snipped them apart, transforming the museum’s star-shaped red centre, encircled in yellow and rimmed by green and blue squares, into little shards of colour.
He also cut apart letters from his family that he had received while he was living abroad, during Lebanon’s Civil War and after. The postage stamps and franking marks are visible in places – from Lebanon as well as from Saudi Arabia, as at times, the Lebanese postal system then wasn’t reliable, and his mother often gave letters to people travelling to post on her behalf. Snippets of the writing, in Arabic, remain legible: “I always pray for both of you,” one reads. “It’s February and I’m starting to count the days…,” reads another. Like the images of the museum’s ceiling, they’re cut into angular, pointed shapes.
Working slowly, meditatively, he pasted the two bodies of images together, interlacing the museum’s detailed mosaic with the hand-written blue ink of the missives. The result is an array of geometric squares that looks shattered, shot apart: a damaged version of something once intact and perfect, as if the stunning stained glass ceiling itself has been pierced by the longing of exile.
Out Done is part of a solo show, Redefining Space: Between Borders, at Warehouse421 in Abu Dhabi, staged by Cuadro Fine Art, in which the Beirut-born artist ruminates on the idea of lines and borders. For his new series of collages, Zakharia has taken photographs of road markings and other found lines, cut apart and rearranged into grids and starry bursts that turn borders into something abstract: fodder for patterns rather than a means of keeping people apart. Borders and lines, the works suggest, are only notional: given an empty car park you don’t have to park within the markings, but most of us do. We respect lines, keeping behind the markings around artworks at museums and out of rooms that are cordoned off.
Out Done, the only work in the show that utilises decorative geometry, shows us the emotional cost of this obedience, writ large: it gestures towards the history of the Middle East and its century of arbitrary, punishing borders, compounded by the visa difficulties of its citizens, who regularly lose the ability to freely cross them. It’s an emblematic work of the experience of immigration, shot through with the particular beauty of the Bait’s Islamic architecture: this is a universal problem, but also an Arab one.
“I miss you … I hug you against my chest,” one of the letters reads. Lines may separate people from one another, but they can also act as bridges, summoning the far close-by.
Out Done is at Warehouse421, Abu Dhabi, until September 30. www.warehouse421.ae