Arts and Culture 25 October 2012
Zena el Khalil's name is unforgettable for anyone who followed her always personal and often profound updates from Beirut on The Electronic Intifada during Israel's July 2006 war on Lebanon. Her acclaimed book Beirut, I Love You -- what Publishers Weekly calls "part love letter and part memoir", and which spans from 1994 to the present -- is now available as an e-book published by the New York Review of Books. It is also being adapted into a feature film, according to the New York Review website.
El Khalil is known for her pop art-inspired mixed-media and installation work which takes on Lebanon's many contradictions, as well as those of the common Lebanese experience of exile and struggling to find a place for oneself upon return. Militant and political imagery are common themes in El Khalil's work, collaged and embellished with silk flowers, rhinestones, fabric and other found objects. She uses a color palette and textures evocative of princess dresses and wedding cakes, creating a startling juxtaposition of war and childhood sentimentality while simultaneously parodying gender normalities. (View her portfolio on her website, zenaelkhalil.com.)
Likewise, her writing tries to make sense of a country in turmoil, as well as love and loss in her own life, as the NYRB describes:
Zena el Khalil, a young Beirut-based female artist, writer, and activist who had an unconventional but worldly upbringing growing up in Lagos, Nigeria and attending art school in New York, returns after 9/11 to her familial home of Beirut and its mountains, beaches, food, music and drugs. Beirut, I Love You, spanning from 1994 to the present day, brings Beirut to life in all its glory and contradictions and is filled with personal anecdotes of Zena's life there: a place where, in spite of the pervasive desire for hope and the resilience of its people, still bears deep scars from the Lebanese Civil War and the Israeli invasion of 2006--a place where plastic surgery and AK 47s live side by side and nightclubs are situated on rooftops in order to avoid car bombs. Yet Zena and her friends, in particular her fellow rebel Maya, refuse to accept the extreme poles of Beirut, the militias and gender restrictions on one side, hedonism and materialism on the other. And although Zena experiences tragedy and loss, her story is a testament to the power of love and friendship, and the beauty of her city and its inhabitants.
Congratulations, Zena el Khalil -- may you share your vision with ever wider audiences.