signs and symbols is pleased to present chou hayda, a video exhibition by Annabel Daou as part of the gallery’s series of online-only solo presentations of video works.
In November of 2017, people from across Beirut came to the National Museum and gave their voices to a number of objects in the collection. The people spoke to and for and about these objects from the past, and in doing so, they revealed fragments of the present. They did not attempt to disclose a particular historical narrative. Nor did they attempt to create a fiction. They did not lie, and they did not try to tell the truth.
“Which side are you on? What would you leave behind? Who has authority here? What happened to your face? Do you follow the law? Who are you? Can you hear me? What have you seen? Have you killed anyone? Is there something you’d like to say? Do you feel important? Who would you silence? Can you keep a secret? Are you Lebanese? What can you do with this? What door will you open? Are you telling the truth? What are you worth? Are you ruined? What did they say?
“The questions above are from chou hayda, a participatory work by Annabel Daou, commissioned by Temporary Art Platform and BEMA in 2017. chou hayda is a site-specific work created at the National Museum of Beirut, which in the course of recent events in Lebanon turned into a ‘political-timing specific’ work, to use the recent coinage of artist Tania Bruguera. This audio-video guide was a collaboration between the artist and the people of Beirut, at a time when life in Beirut was still possible and people still found pleasure and meaning in taking part in such endeavors. Daou invited groups of audiences to the National Museum, which houses an incredible collection of archeological artifacts, and asked them to give their voices to these archeological objects of the past. This participatory audio reverses the traditional way an audience engages with a museum collection, and brings together a myriad of voices: the artist’s voice, the responses of the participants and two recurring voices of professional actors whose narrations weave through the piece, giving a hint of formality to the structure of the work. Listening to or reading the above questions from the audio-guide today triggers feelings that can hardly be put into words. Back then, the questions prompted heated political answers, reminiscences of the civil war; they brought forth responses spoken from a place of struggle and pain, sung lullabies, Arabic poetry and verbalized epitaphs. The work acquires a very different meaning now.
“What has been happening to Beirut and its people since the October revolution (2019) is a slow walk to the world of the dead. Daou conceived this work as one that would not only give life to dormant artefacts, but also host people’s voices from their standpoint as Lebanese citizens in 2017 in the National Museum. This was a reanimation of the museum as a space that could still play a role in people’s lives. Since then, it has been crisis after tragedy after crisis. At the beginning of the Revolution, voices similar to those that were brought into the museum went out to the streets. There was something clairvoyant to Daou’s audio piece, we thought. Soon after, the cruel reality of the situation unfolded: the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic collapse of the Lebanese Pound, the 200% inflation, culminating in the most tragic attack imaginable on the lives and dignity of Lebanese people on August 4th. The Beirut port blast is a result of endemic corruption and necropolitics: the government killed its people, destroyed their city and those who survived will bear the wounds and scars of history, to echo the description someone made of an ancient mask for chou hayda back in 2017. In Beirut today, voices are tamed, and preservation is a form of care required for those who are still alive. The museum is still standing and the voices from 2017 are perhaps still reverberating there, as custodians of a bygone city.”
– Amanda Abi Khalil
chou hayda is an audio work commissioned by BEMA, in collaboration with TEMPORARY. ART. PLATFORM, with the partnership of the Ministry of Culture / Directorate General of Antiquities and The National Museum of Beirut. Curator: Amanda Abi Khalil; Sound design & sound project collaborator: Nadim Mishlawi, DB Studios.
*Please note that Daou's video will be viewable online from Sunday, September 20 at 6:00pm until Tuesday, October 20 at 6:00pm. Following the end of the exhibition, the video will only be accessible via private link and password. We trust that given our current circumstances, everyone will act in good faith and good will, understanding that these are primary artworks by our artists that are collected and which would otherwise be password protected.
annabel daou’s work takes place at the intersection of writing, speech, and nonverbal communication. Her paper-and-tape constructions, sound pieces, and performances explore the language of power and intimacy. Daou was born and raised in Beirut and lives in Brooklyn. She was recently a Pollock-Krasner resident at ISCP in 2019-20. Her book of fictional prose, The Autobiography of A, will be published in 2020. Daou is currently organizing The Lobby, a temporary public exhibition program. Daou’s work has been shown at The National Museum of Beirut; The Park Avenue Armory, New York; KW, Berlin; The Drawing Room, London; and The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin. Public collections include: Baltimore Museum of Art; The Menil Collection; The Brooklyn Museum of Art; The Vehbi Koç Foundation, Istanbul; and The Yale University Art Gallery.