Songs of Loss and Songs of Love

Songs of Loss and Songs of Love

Gwangju Museum of Art

Raed Yassin, Ruins in Space (detail), 2014. Mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Kalfayan Galleries, Athens.

May 15, 2014

Songs of Loss and Songs of Love: Oum Kulthoum, Lee Nan-Young and their 1967 “Almost” Encounter
May 19–August 25, 2014

Gwangju Museum of Art
52 Haseo-ro, Buk-gu
Gwangju 500-170

T +82 62 613 7100 / +82 62 613 7149

Curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath

Based on a fictional framework conceived by the exhibition’s curators, Songs of Loss and Songs of Love raises some pertinent questions about the (im)possibility of cultural exchange. Fiction is employed as a form of alternative storytelling through which one could better appreciate the achievements and shortcomings of an era. The exhibition is based not on facts but on an almost-event and what could have happened since. Therefore, while the artworks are indeed in the museum and while the visitors do in fact walk around tangible objects and experience them in space and time, this exhibition merges the realms of fiction with reality engulfing the visitors as participants within an imagined encounter.

Fact: Two singers, two lands, two songs

Oum Kulthoum (1904–1975), Egypt, The Ruins, 1966
Lee Nan-Young (1916–1967), Korea, The Tears of Mokpo, c. 1933

Fact: One passage

Oum Kulthoum was in Paris to give a concert at the Olympia as part of an international tour to rally support for the Egyptian troops following the defeat of the 1967 War. Lee Nan-Young was passing through Paris on her way back to Korea from New York where her daughters, the Kim Sisters, had made their 20th appearance on CBS’s famous Ed Sullivan Show.

Fiction: One encounter

Lee Nan-Young attended Oum Kulthoum’s concert and fell in love with her music. She met with her backstage. Over the next few days, they would meet several times in the cafes of Paris. They would discuss politics and compare life stories. A bond was forged and a promise to visit and collaborate was made. What happened next was lost until… now.

Fiction: One lost vinyl record

Upon her return to Cairo, Oum Kulthoum asked the Egyptian radio to transmit the Olympia concert via satellite to Korea. The Shinjin Company decided to release it as the first Arab record to ever be produced in Korea. Artist Raed Yassin found the lost album on Ebay and decided to reissue it for this project.

Fact and Fiction: One exhibition and 18 artists

Almost half a century after that imagined encounter occurred, this exhibition comes as a fulfillment of Oum Kulthoum’s promise to visit Lee Nan-Young in Korea. The exhibition is loosely constructed around a series of dichotomies that echo the themes of loss and love in the singers’ two seminal songs:

Vahid Sharifian‘s sculpture What Happened to You My Lover presents us with an ironic commentary about the loss of love, while Ghada Amer‘s sculptures, such as Baiser I and The Words I Love the Most, inspired initially by the synonyms for the word love in Arabic, ring with a celebratory tone.

Joana Hadjthomas and Khalil Joreige‘s Lebanese Rocket Society documents the long-lost dream of a group of Lebanese-Armenian scientists to launch a rocket into space. On the other hand, Ali Cherri’s Pipe Dreams documents in a passionate affair-like manner the famous phone call between the president of Syria, Hafez Al-Assad, and a Syrian astronaut.

Mounir Fatmi‘s Saving Manhattan comprising a cityscape and sound-scape, abstracts the horrifying loss of 9/11, while Mohammad Kazem‘s engravings on paper in Sounds of the Angles echo lovingly the grid-like structures of urban cartographies and musical scores.

The delicate yet powerful sculpture by Mona Hatoum titled T42 (Gold) speaks of two entities transforming into a hybrid of sorts. Yet Shirin Neshat‘s Turbulent confronts us with two characters that never manage to come together.

If I Forget You Don’t Forget Me by Manal Al Dowayan intimately excavates the lost personal stories of a community of families in Saudi Arabia. However, Mohssin Harraki‘s drawing, flags and tracings in works such as Inconnus and Arbres Genealogique resemble traditional family trees and conjure a sense of loss and mythology.

Pascal Hachem‘s sculptural works from the series “Belief in Self Deception” are steeped in a critique of the coercion of martyrdom into narratives of unfounded and useless political propaganda. Adel Abidin‘s appropriation of three nationalist anthems into Three Love Songs, on the other hand, unpacks the tempestuous love-like zeal with which thousands of Iraqis danced to the tune of Saddam’s promises.

Fouad El Khoury‘s Suite Egyptienne is a metaphorical and geographical re-enactment of Flaubert and Du Camp’s journey in Egypt in the 19th century. Zineb Sedira‘s shipwrecks and sea journeys in The Lovers II, Maritime Nonsense and Other Aquatic Tales and Middle Sea respectively speak of journeys that are haunted with suffering and desolation.

Mes condoléances, Khaled Takreti‘s monumental painting, captures the essence of loss. It is his response to the war that has plagued his native Syria. Equally so, Nicene Kossentinti’s Revenir and Boujmal explore similar notions of loss by invoking the imagery of her home and family in a poetic handling of the dichotomies arising from absence and presence.

Yet Ziad Antar‘s A Night of Love, by having a Korean violinist perform a complex score of Arabic Tarab music, highlights the freedom of existing in between places and cultures thatare at once absent and present due to their (in)accessibility. And serving as backdrop to the entire exhibition, Raed Yassin‘s Ruins in Space, specifically commissioned for the exhibition, develops the details of that imagined encounter between Oum Kulthoum and Lee Nan-Young.

About the curators
Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath co-founded in 2009 Art Reoriented, an independent, multi-disciplinary curatorial platform based in Munich and New York. Integral to their various exhibitions, research projects, teaching and publications is the critique of conventional art-historical classifications and the interrogation of the traditional mechanisms by which contemporary art is understood and presented. Their recent exhibitions include The Lebanese Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, Mona Hatoum: Turbulence at Mathaf, Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, and the traveling exhibition Tea with Nefertiti currently on view at the State Museum of Egyptian Art, Munich, Germany.

About the museum
Founded in 1992, the Gwangju Museum of Art is Gwangju’s first public art museum. It comprises several galleries, artist workshop spaces and an educational center that are dedicated to the presentation and promotion of local artists as well as the latest in contemporary artistic practices from around the world.

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May 15, 2014

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