Akram Zaatari

Akram Zaatari

Moderna Museet

Akram Zaatari, Untitled, 2013. © Akram Zaatari.

March 7, 2015

Akram Zaatari

7 March–16 August 2015 

Moderna Museet


Curator: Magnus af Petersens

The exhibition Akram Zaatari: Unfolding is the first solo presentation of Zaatari’s oeuvre in Sweden. It focuses on his archeological gestures, performed in different locations across different layers of history, all in relation to Saida, Zaatari’s hometown in South Lebanon. Those excavations rely mainly on finding photographic documents, which are studied but also performed in so many different ways in relation to history, space and trade. Zaatari’s excavations explore notions of work and the industry of image making. They explore location against the changing urban context and the logic of the marketplace as a site of numerous transactions, and finally they interrogate “the rumor” as an intangible memory, an ambiguous fact and strange object for study. 

Akram Zaatari’s working method, compared to that of an archaeologist, leads him to excavate objects, images, memories and stories. His interest in subjective historiography delves deep into our recent history, focusing on documents that can be personal, not to say intimate. Zaatari often works with existing documents such as photographs, diaries and sound recordings. The poetry in his work makes abstract political events personal and highlights individual choice and responsibility.

Akram Zaatari (b. 1966) has played a critical role in developing the formal, intellectual, and institutional infrastructure of Beirut’s contemporary art scene. He belonged to the handful of young artists who emerged from the delirious but short-lived era of experimentation in Lebanon’s television industry, which was radically reorganised after the country’s civil war (1975–90). As a co-founder of the Arab Image Foundation, a groundbreaking, artist-driven organisation devoted to the research and study of photography in the region, he has made invaluable and uncompromising contributions to the wider discourse on preservation and archival practice.

Zaatari’s collecting practice is a working method that led him to accumulate many objects and documents, most of which are now part of the Arab Image Foundation’s collection, especially the archive of Studio Shehrazade in Saida and the work of the photographer Hashem el Madani. As an artist he is not only interested in the stories that photographic records tell, but also in them as traces of a growing industry of image production and diffusion. He belongs to a generation of artists who are heirs to a conceptual and media-critical art that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, many of whom have their work rooted in photography. These artists move freely between documentation and subjectivity, between archive and memory. Zaatari’s interests and artistic practice can be regarded as part of an international tendency and were described by the art historian Hal Foster as an “archival impulse.”

“Zaatari is conscious of the problematic aspects of “collecting” and the displacement of cultural artifacts away from their places of origin, away from their original functions, as widely and historically practiced by museums. He ties it to residues of a colonial practice. This is where Zaatari’s interest and engagement with space come to establish new ties with locations of origin. Zaatari presents stories that are personal yet profoundly universal,” says curator Magnus af Petersens.

Akram Zaatari’s major international breakthrough was at the Venice Biennale in 2013 when he presented Letter to a Refusing Pilot (2013) at the Lebanese pavilion. The work is addressed to the Israeli air force pilot Hagai Tamir who, one week after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, refused to bomb a target in Saida. Being an architect, Tamir could identify the building he was to bomb as either a hospital or a school. He turned his aircraft around and dropped his bombs over the sea. The building was bombed a few hours later by another pilot. Zaatari often heard different versions of this story in his youth, and he himself retold it in a public conversation with the Israeli filmmaker Avi Mograbi in Paris in 2010. A few years later Zaatari was contacted by someone who knew the pilot: the rumor was true. 

“The film is a tribute to a person who made an individual choice: to refuse military orders even if this refusal would not change the course of war. This is an ethical and an existential choice. The film concerns a soldier who became human; a passage that is often left out in historical narratives of war,” Magnus af Petersens continues.

The exhibition Akram Zaatari: Unfolding presents three major groups of works, including “Itinerary” (2008/2015) and “Twenty-Eight Nights and a Poem” (2010/2014). The Mini Cinema also features a selection of Zaatari’s films and videos. In addition to this a selection of other films that have been influential on him will be screened in the cinema. 


Akram Zaatari at Moderna Museet
RSVP for Akram Zaatari
Moderna Museet
March 7, 2015

Thank you for your RSVP.

Moderna Museet will be in touch.


e-flux announcements are emailed press releases for art exhibitions from all over the world.

Agenda delivers news from galleries, art spaces, and publications, while Criticism publishes reviews of exhibitions and books.

Architecture announcements cover current architecture and design projects, symposia, exhibitions, and publications from all over the world.

Film announcements are newsletters about screenings, film festivals, and exhibitions of moving image.

Education announces academic employment opportunities, calls for applications, symposia, publications, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Sign up to receive information about events organized by e-flux at e-flux Screening Room, Bar Laika, or elsewhere.

I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

Thank you for your interest in e-flux. Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.