Artist Talk: The Search for Power
Sunday, December 10, 2023
9:15 – 10 AM
Location: Bin Jelmood House, Lower Gallery. Msheireb Museums
Aligning with Msheireb’s “Kahraba street” and Doha’s histories of electricity,Tania El Khoury, an artist, and Ziad Abu Rish, a historian, created this experiential exhibition about the history of power outages in Lebanon, delving into the intersection between public utilities infrastructure, people’s relationship to the state, and various popular mobilizations to shape both. The Search for Power is a sound installation of a lecture performance featuring the artist, the historian, and the audience.
On a night with a sudden electricity outage in their Beirut neighbourhood, the artist and her historian husband discussed the history of power cuts in Lebanon. Born during the Lebanese Civil War, the artist had grown up with the understanding that the problem with electricity in Lebanon began during the war. The historian, however, recalled finding a government document dated 1952 that announced scheduled electricity outages across Beirut. The two decided to research the history of power outages in Lebanon, delving into the intersection between public utilities infrastructure, people’s relationship to the state, and various popular mobilizations to shape both. In time, they reach as far back as the introduction of electricity in Beirut before it was even possible to imagine a Lebanese state. In space, they collect documents across Lebanon and beyond its borders, visiting the archives of colonial powers: Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. What they find is a transnational story that locates electricity at the intersection of colonial legacies, the machinations of political and economic elites, and everyday acts of resistance, survival, and sabotage.
Katia Arfara (Moderator)
Katia Arfara is an Assistant Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies at NYUAD and a curator. Her research, curatorship, and teaching focus on intermedial performance and politics in the Global Souths, migration, ecodramaturgies, and social public art. As the Theatre and Dance Artistic Director and Curator of the Onassis Stegi in Athens (2009-19), she has initiated and curated numerous interdisciplinary festivals such as the cutting-edge Fast Forward. Her scholarship has appeared in a range of peer-reviewed journals, including Theatre Journal, Theatre Research International, and Performance Research. She is the co-editor of lntermedial Performance and Politics in the Public Sphere and co-leads the Elements Pod in the Anthropocene Research Kitchen, NYUAD Division of Arts & Humanities.
Zaid Abu-Rish is and Associate Professor of Human Rights and Middle Eastern Studies at Bard College, where he also directs the MA Program in Human Rights and the Arts. His research interests center around state formation, economic development, and popular mobilizations in late colonial and early post-independence Lebanon and Jordan. He is currently completing a book manuscript titled “The State of Lebanon: Popular Politics and Institution Building in the Wake of Independence.” His previous publications have appeared in Middle East Report, Review of Middle East Studies, and several edited volumes. Ziad is a co-editor of Jadaliyya and Arab Studies Journal. He also collaborated with artist Tania El Khoury to create The Search for Power, a research-based interactive installation on the history of electricity in Lebanon.