Arts, On Campus

McMullen’s ‘Landscape of Memory’ Confronts Themes of Identity, Memory, and Exile Through Multimedia Art

As patrons enter the Landscape of Memory exhibition at the McMullen Museum of Art, they will spot a collection of potted cacti within an installation titled All About Acapulco. A suspended chalet hangs above the cacti, which are surrounded by three walls containing photos of Lebanese architecture. The installation serves as a time capsule of the Lebanon that once was, prior to the country’s destructive civil war. 

All About Acapulco is one of seven installations that make up Landscape of Memory, a new exhibition in the McMullen featuring multimodal works that explore topics such as identity, exile, memory, and war in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. 

The installations are sourced from the collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation in the United Arab Emirates and utilize a mix of films, paintings, sculptures, and photographs. Kathleen Bailey, a political science professor at Boston College, curated the exhibition, which runs from Jan. 30 through June 4. 

“The artists provoke reflection on what it means to remember and the often unstable landscapes these memories inhabit,” a plaque inside the exhibition reads. 

All About Acapulco, a video and mixed media installation created by Marwa Arsanios, is the first installation within the exhibition, which is laid out in a sequential design. The installation depicts the popular resort town of Ouzai on Acapulco Beach on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea before Lebanon descended into civil war in the ’70s. 

A suspended chalet at the center of the piece showcases the cosmopolitan nature of this formerly en vogue beach town. Pictures and a video of families peacefully enjoying themselves on vacation accompany the piece. 

The description of All about Acapulco informs viewers that the installation functions as a time capsule of Lebanon pre-civil war, intended to be compared to modern-day Lebanon. According to the description of the installation, Lebanon has the highest percentage of refugees per capita and per square mile in the world. The former chalet now houses these displaced people. 

Another installation by Mona Hatoum titled Plotting Table features a fluorescent green map of the world on a wooden plotting table, similar to those used in strategic wartime decisions. The pervasive lights on the table suggest impending conflict and destruction, and the exhibition deals with the themes of loss and displacement. Hatoum was born to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon but was separated from her parents during the Lebanese Civil War and now resides in London.  

Sadik Kwaish Alfraji’s mixed media installation The House That My Father Built depicts a man’s journey to his home country of Iraq after his father’s death—his first trip back to Iraq after fleeing in the ‘90s.

The installation shows traditional clothing and prayer beads hanging in the corner of the house. 

“This is then what is left of my father??” Alfraji wrote on a plaque in the installation. 

The clothing and prayer beads are surrounded by moving images of people, spirits, and memories of the past. This moving work is supplemented by music that invites viewers to feel Alfraji’s grief.

Adel Abidin’s installation Memorial is a single-channel video relating to the United States’ 1991 bombardment of the Republic Bridge, which spans over the Tigris River. This work depicts what Abidin saw as a 17-year-old who rode his bike to the scene: a caved-in bridge and a dead cow. 

Through displaying looming clouds and black-and-white images, the video elicits the feeling of emptiness that can come after destruction. The cow, dead on its back after it failed to jump to reach its family on the other side of the river, symbolizes a lonely death and failure to escape isolation. 

The exhibition concludes with a Portal hosted by Shared_Studios, in which visitors to the exhibition can engage in real-time conversations with people in refugee camps and art centers around the world. 

February 1, 2023