(Beirut, Lebanon, 1982)
This work, which takes the name of the city of Beirut, shows how forms of communication in today’s globalised world export idealised images of one culture to the realities of another. The West as the great coloniser that imposes its lifestyle, its ideal of prosperity and society, everywhere. The tradition-modernity dichotomy replicates the East-West dichotomy. Progress can only follow in the trail of the capitalist world and the liberal system.
Motivated by the lack of a visual history of the landscape in Lebanon, Manal Abu-Shaheen constructs her own photographic archive of the urban environment: a city dominated by advertising hoardings. Advertising that replicates images of an opulent West, lining the streets of a city in the Near East. Luxury, glamour and happiness. In a certain sense, these advertisements are the siren’s call for the unlimited consumption that drives capitalist growth, but, on the other hand, they are also trying to sell an entirely mythologised Western ideal that makes no sense in a post-war city. Advertisements and neoliberal capitalism represent the most recent form of colonialism. What is new and fascinating about this system is that it employs images as its most powerful tool: the city is now occupied by images of Western people and products. The fact that Manal Abu-Shaheen’s photographs are in black and white seems to place the fictitious world of advertising on the same level as the harsh reality of the city of Beirut.