History written in metal at Beirut exhibition

The sculptures and carvings of “Interminable Seasons of Migration” are dedicated to the flocks of beings fleeing from hell.
Saturday 05/10/2019
Acrylic on wood artwork by Lebanese artist Ginane Makki Bacho. (Paul Hennebelle)
Carrying their lives in suitcases. Acrylic on wood artwork by Lebanese artist Ginane Makki Bacho. (Paul Hennebelle)

BEIRUT - Who said history is only written in books? Lebanese artist Ginane Makki Bacho has been recounting the history of Lebanon and the region with metal artwork in exhibitions depicting the horrors of wars and forced migration.

“Interminable Seasons of Migration,” Bacho’s latest show at Agial Art Gallery in Beirut, is a continuation of a previous work titled “Civilisation” in which the artist used the same technique, materials and themes that have marked her sculptural work from its inception.

“I am an engaged artist and I have always been working on the theme of war because I wanted to talk about actualities,” Bacho said. “I feel it is my responsibility towards humanity and future generations to show in a concrete way what has been happening in the world around us.

“In history books we read about wars, invasions and atrocities from the Mongol invasions to the Crusaders and more recent wars but we had nothing concrete portraying these events. What is happening to us in this region is real and we cannot act like ostriches by burying our head in the sand but we need to expose them.”

Bacho has been producing sculptures out of shrapnel and scrap metal for four decades. For her latest exhibition, she welded hundreds of metal toy-size figurines connected at the edges and represented in clusters as groups of families and children.

Displayed together in the format of an installation, the clusters appear to be masses of people in procession, mimicking the thousands of refugees fleeing across lands and seas with limited belongings.

While “Civilisation” was specifically inspired by the atrocities committed by the Islamic State, “Interminable Seasons of Migration” represents the broader theme of people’s uprooting and movement globally.

“Throughout history there have been several seasons of migration and it is continuing. In Lebanon, for instance, we had to move and flee several times during the civil war (1975-90). You have the Syrians and the Rohingyas in Myanmar for example. Forced migration is not only about this region but it is happening in many places around the world,” Bacho said.

She has always showed a preference to working with metal, although she also mastered other techniques and media, including painting and photography. She has fashioned most of her works from a metallic gel that she gathered, remodelled and reworked.

It began with shrapnel left of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. From those she sculpted cedars, the symbol of Lebanese national pride. She repeatedly visited junkyards and scrap shops to scavenge for elements through which she would recount the Arab “Apocalypse,” her reference to the “Arab spring.”

“Iron is a medium that I feel comfortable working with,” Bacho said. “Why iron? Because iron is a cold material and it insinuates war, arms and violence.”

Producing small-scale iron figurines in large quantities proved to be an extremely difficult and daunting task. Bacho said the idea came to her when she was working on a truck for her grandchild.

“I first tried to make figurines to put in the truck, which was extremely difficult. However, the outcome was astounding, even for me. Then I thought maybe I should work more on these and see what comes out,” she said.

It took Bacho seven years to complete her series of exhibitions.

After the “Arab spring” opened before the people of the region the doors of hell, Bacho worked on embodying hordes of jihadists, war machinery and ships carrying fugitives at sea, prisoners’ cages and ritual slaughter in her 2016 “Civilisation.”

The sculptures and carvings of “Interminable Seasons of Migration,” which is an extension of its predecessor, are dedicated to the flocks of beings fleeing from hell.

“I like to recount a story. It is like a book that you read chapter after chapter. One chapter is about the weapons and tanks, another about the killing and torture cages, and yet another about the migrants. At the end I believe that I could manage to give an image of what is happening to us and in the region,” Bacho said.

In her own way, Bacho repaints the epic of displacement and asylum. She embodies multiple countries in their forced migration. She sculpted her subjects from metal one by one, catching the movement of their limbs, suitcases in hand. She formed small groups of refugees using bronze or carved them on wood.

“I work for a cause and that is the cause of peace. We only live once and I like to give a testimony of life, of history and our present,” Bacho said.