Urban Battle Scars

04 December 2019Rebecca Anne Proctor
Urban Battle Scars
Urban Battle Scars

Slanted Squares by Marwan Rechmaoui

Several totem pole-like sculptures seem to shoot up from the ground in steadfast determination, each with their various chisels, imprints, and cavities appearing almost alien in form and substance. There’s something about their stance and structure that is life-like, as if they were themselves living and breathing beings. But they aren’t. They are works of art by Marwan Rechmaoui on view at the artist’s latest exhibition in Sharjah, entitled Slanted Squares.


Akin to the passionate cries of Lebanon’s ongoing revolution, Rechmaoui’s sculptures, despite their battered holes and jagged surfaces — the battle scars of years of societal abuse — remain resolute in their decision to go on.


If I only had a Chance (Helipad), 2019 by Marwan Rechmaoui

“When I show decaying Pillars (2014-present), I am basically criticising the structure on which the [Lebanese] state and society are built,” says Rechmaoui, who recently took part in the symposium Temporary Spaces: Exchanges in Art, Architecture, and Photography in the UAE, organised by Alserkal Arts Foundation and Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational, in collaboration with Ishara Art Foundation. “Most of these works are critical of the state’s bureaucracy, while other works are the consequence of this bureaucracy.”

 If I only had a Chance (Kindergarden), 2019 by Marwan Rechmaoui

The works on view span 17 years of the artist’s career and showcase Rechmaoui’s methodical studies on demographics, urbanisation, and cartography through two series of works, a commission, and a group of drawings. The artist’s ongoing series Buildings (2000-present) is conceived of six sculptures, each referencing a building or construction site in Lebanon, including the Yacoubian Building entitled Spectre (2006); Raouche Market, called The Coop (2019); Murr Tower, named Monument for the Living (2002) and also three structures from the Rashid Karami International Fair Complex in Tripoli, particularly of the experimental theatre, titled If I Only Had a Chance (Experimental Theatre) (2019), the helipad and space museum, If I Only Had a Chance (Helipad and Space Museum) (2019) and the kindergarten, titled If I Only Had a Chance (Kindergarten) (2019).

“These works are not an immediate reaction of what is happening today — on the contrary, they offer a prolonged discussion and critique of what led to today’s revolution,” notes the artist.


Pillars of Destruction

In the space connecting gallery 1 and 2 of the Sharjah Art Foundation is a series of Rechmaoui’s aforementioned Pillars (2014-present), which are also displayed in the Yard, the institution’s outdoor piazza-like area. Each is modeled differently; some have strips of material hanging from their bodies, indicative of the wear and tear of time, while others have crumbling surfaces, chipped edges, and unconnected wires sticking out as if they had just been the subject to a bomb blast.


Beirut Caoutchouc, 2004-2008 by Marwan Rechmaoui

The poignant series — inspired by media images of the Syrian war that led the artist to recall similar feelings he experienced nearly 20 years prior during Beirut’s civil war — grapples with both the architectural and moral grounds of conflict and ultimately, how physical and social sites are built. No structure is immune to the passing of time, destruction, or human abandonment. Rechmaoui’s Pillars relay the sense of pain resulting from the inflicting chaos that these spaces have experienced.


Beirut Caoutchouc, 2004-2008 by Marwan Rechmaoui


Inhabiting New Spaces

Rechmaoui found the narrow alleyways of the Sharjah Art Foundation conducive to the placement of his work. “[They] could be a metaphor for the browsing system in Beirut on which these structures exist,” he explains. “What is mostly important is how the Pillars series found a yard in which to settle, making the connection of the outdoor-indoor very fluid.”


Central to the artist’s work is his use of industrial materials of concrete, metal, rubber, tar, and textile. Through their use in his architecturally inspired urban structures and installations, he explores demographics, cartography, and urbanisation with a specific focus on how the cultural histories of cities such as Beirut mirror their complex socio-political realities.


Slanted Squares marks the first time that Rechmaoui’s drawings are showcased to the public. Through liberated and playful lines, the artist’s drawings are in contrast to the constrained and fierce materials that Rechmaoui incorporates into his sculptures. His soft pastel drawings on cotton paper entitled Populus (2019), offer visual contrasts to the rigidity and conflict of urban life through endearing, child-like lines providing a softer approach to the chaotic cacophony of materials the artist is known for.

 Mille Feuille by Marwan Rechmaoui

Human Chain

One of the most powerful works on display, and one which most closely resonates with the Lebanese Revolution of today, is Untitled 12 (2017). Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation for Sharjah Biennial 13, It is composed of 12 panels made with streams of concrete and beeswax that meet at a line of copper, suggestive, as Rechmaoui notes, “of a running shoreline, expanding over the coast of Lebanon.”


“It gives you a visual connection,” he continues, “with the human chain which was formed the second week of the revolution along the shoreline of Lebanon. So more or less, we can see the shape of the human chain.”


Indeed, there is a human link between the urban spaces in which we dwell and our emotional states. Perhaps, Rechmaoui seems to say in these works, the structures that we occupy over time, and which must inevitably surrender to the harshness of the environment — an environment that we assist in creating — are ultimately, a reflection of our own past and present states. These are living monuments, and reminders of bygone and yet ever-present moments.


Slanted Squares by Marwan Rechmaoui runs until 2 February 2020 at Sharjah Art Foundation. 


About Rebecca Anne Proctor

Rebecca Anne Proctor is the former Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar Art and Harper’s Bazaar Interiors, a role she held from 2015 to 2019. She has written prolifically for publications including The New York Times Style Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, Canvas, Artnet News, Frieze, BBC, Galerie, The National, and The Business of Fashion, as well as written several art catalogues on Middle Eastern art and culture. 

Akin to the passionate cries of Lebanon’s ongoing revolution, Marwan Rechmaoui’s sculptures, despite their battered holes and jagged surfaces remain resolute in their decision to go on.”