EIW Venice guide is our way of sharing the conversations that excite us the most while bringing you the places that make our daily life so enjoyable. The edition #3 is dedicated to Yasmine Helou, the Venice based curator of Alfred Tarazi's exhibition A Nation's Inflation. The show presents a reflection on Lebanon's financial crisis in relationship to the country Civil War.
Alfred Tarazi, A Nation’s Inflation, Venice 2022
Nadja Romain - What is your background, and how it has informed your curatorial practice ?
Yasmine Helou - Half Lebanese, half Italian, growing up between Beirut and Rome permitted me to have and use a multicultural and multilingual awareness in my personal and professional life. Through my studies in Art Market and Cultural Mediation in Paris, I had the opportunity to work in several entities of the Art world such as art galleries, in the role of assistant, and Museums, as part of the curatorial team and the cultural mediation department, suchlike The Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris and the National Museum of Beirut. I eventually decided to engage in a Master course in Curatorial Practice in Venice, Italy, following my motivation to deepen my understanding of the contemporary art field and to work for its promotion, which led me to co-found in 2018, a.topos (which I am not part of anymore), a curatorial collective based in the italian city. Since then I have been involved in several cultural projects and exhibitions, such as the National Pavilion of Malta at the 2019 Venice Art Biennale, or the DK Zattere Curatorial Lab of the V-A-C Foundation... In 2021 I was in charge of the exhibitions and events program of Venice Art Projects.
Having an international background probably helps me imagine things and connections between things in different languages and ways, forging my eclectic approach to curatorial practice.
Alfred Tarazi, 25llA: The Hostage Host: 1967
N.R - How do you see the role of a curator in today's ecosystem of the contemporary art world? We are in a moment defined by fluidity between disciplines. Art is shown in a variety of contexts including the web, and now we have the NFTs. What is the relevance of the white cube for the emerging generation of curators ?
Y.H - In my opinion the curator ought to stand as a bridge between and idea and the audience, between the art and the public. For me the main role of the curator is to make sure the message has been received in the best way possible, highlighting the artworks in harmony with the guideline designed with the artist. The process should in a way combine the artist work and universe with the vision of the curator who orchestrates the show, as an instrumentalist would do.
A white cube is a clean sheet, that can be the starting point of an entire new train of thoughts, giving space for almost limitless imagination, but I truly believe that every type of spaces, every kind of locations has something to bring to a show. I love working on sitespecic installations and when the space has peculiarities, it might be challenging but it's always thrilling to play with them! At the end of the day we are building atmospheres and environments that we try to make as intelligible as possible.
N.R - How did you met Alfred Tarazi? And why did you want to curate a show with him?
Y.H - After the terrible blast of August 4th 2020 that devastated half of the City of Beirut, I felt the need to contribute in a way to the reconstruction of my city... Being in the art field, I decided to organize Alwan Li Beirut- Colors for Beirut, a fundraiser imagined as a charity raffle, to help rebuild the art spaces, artists studios and atelier that were severely damaged by the explosion. By participating in the raffle, people helped rebuild what used to be an incredibly vivid artistic and cultural life while having the possibility to earn an artwork from a Lebanese artist, one of them was Alfred, who gave an artwork as one of the 9 prizes to win. This initiative was designed to have two direct impacts, the immediate promotion of Lebanese talents, and, most obviously, the activation of vast artistic solidarity chains aimed at the reconstruction of the city.
Since then, I have been collaborating with him, showcasing his work in Mexico City, and now Venice, organizing studio visits, and interviews, to promote his incredible practice, which could seem at first very specific to the Lebanese cultural panorama, but at the end is extremely universal.
N.R - What was the genesis of the show ? Why in Venice and in this specific space ?
Y.H - I first brought this series to Mexico City, at the Art House Project, organized during the Art Week in February, because I thought it was still important to talk about Lebanon, because I thought Mexico was living a similar experience, and obviously because it's an incredible work that deserved international exposure... After Mexico, my idea was to organize a solo show in Venice, where I am based, around A Nation's Inflation. I think the topic is very contemporary, but I also think that it is always important to try to tell stories that were never told; Lebanon's recent History is one of them. Looking at the nature of the work, I really wanted a small space, preferably a white cube, but only because of the density of the collages. In my head the audience had to feel absorbed by the story, by this historical fresco, rich with actions, events and people... and I believe that this specific space helped me accomplish that, giving me also the room to explain through the tangibility of money the story we are trying to tell.
Alfred Tarazi, A Nation’s Inflation, Venice 2022
N.R - Lebanon is at the front row of the refugee crisis, bearing the brunt of the displacement of populations due to wars and the consequences of climate change in the region. How can we raise awareness on this situation ?
Y.H - Lebanon has been a land of refuge for a very long time. In recent History, it has been the Palestinians, and now the Syrians. The country is composed of 4millions lebanese citizens, 500 000 Palestinian refugees, and 2 millions Syrian refugees... But as every crisis in Lebanon, every difficulty, the refugee situation has become anecdotal. And this is the true danger, getting acquainted and used to hard times, without trying to improve and go forwards. Awareness is the key, and I think Art can help in that matter.
N.R - The international community is turning its head on the situation. What do you have to say about it ?
Y.H - I think that we are unfortunately living an era of constant disasters, but it's also an era of fast information, and, sadly, fast empathy. People forget as quickly as they feel... That is why I think everyone has the duty to keep the memory alive, whatever it is.
N.R - Can you explain to us what is the economic situation in Lebanon now and your take on it?
Y.H - Lebanon's economy and financial system have completely collapsed. It was based on a fantastic, long lasting, ponzi scheme set up by the Central Bank, and like all ponzi schemes when it crumbles, it crumbles suddenly. So, in an instant people lost everything, what they had saved at the banks either lost its value, or was untouchable. The inflation exploded, the Lebanese currency lost more than 90% of its value; if people had a salary in Lebanese Lira, they had lost more than 90% of their power purchase. From a situation where Lebanon was considered almost free from poverty, we got to a place where Lebanon is considered one of the poorest countries in the world, with the majority of the people living in poverty. This catastrophic situation, mixed with the government's total lack of efficiency (no electricity, no fuel, no infrastructure, no healthcare) creates an almost unreal state, where it's hard to believe that the country still exists. And If it's still standing it is only thanks to its people.
N.R - What makes the show so compelling is the conversation Alfred Tarazi engages with us. How does your generation feel about the future of Lebanon? What is your vision for rebuilding and the role the diaspora can have ?
Y.H - In 2019, with the so-called "Revolution" we were very hopeful, people finally got together to protest against the same things, and to promote the same ideas of equality and human rights, no matter their cultural economical backgrounds... But the repression was strong, and the pandemic didn't help maintain the movement. Hope in this sense slowly died for a lot of us... Today most young Lebanese try to escape to another country, but you still have a very dynamic youth that persistently tries to create new realities, and still fights for a new order. The diaspora has been helping a lot, sending funds to the families, coming to the country on holiday to boost tourism and the economy, but I see the hand of the Diaspora more as an aid to survive, not to live.
However, the past elections were proof that between the diaspora and the residents there is hope for a new independent political system, but the way is still very long...
Alfred Tarazi, A Nation’s Inflation, Venice 2022
N.R - Can you tell us who are the Lebanon artists to follow ?
Y.H - Alfred Tarazi of course! Akram Zaatari is a well established artist that is always interesting to follow, so are Ayman Baalbaki, Ali Cheri or Lamia Jorgeige and Lawrence Abu Hamdan. But the new generation has a lot to offer, Ghenwa Abou Fayad, who is a young performance artist that works a lot with calligraphy and the impact of words in cultures is for sure going somewhere...
N.R - What are your next projects?
Y.H - I am organizing an exhibition in Venice, with a Saudi Artist, Zahra Bundakji. Her research is focused on habits and customs within modern Arab societies, but also society in general and the image of the woman. I am also trying to organize an event at Cosmo in Giudecca Island in Venice, with venitian based artist Simone Carraro and Ornella Cardillo, but I cannot say too much about it, you will have to come and see... Also, I am working on a text for a book on Lebanese artist based in London Ramzi Mallat whose work is deeply anchored in culture and critical observation on behaviors and manners, believes and superstitions.
Curator Yasmine Helou
A Nation’s Inflation - Alfred Tarazi
Address: Castello 2432, Fondamenta dei Penini, VE
Vaporetto stops: Arsenal
Opening hours: From 02 to 22 September 2022
Contact: email@example.com +3491118862
September 12th, 2022