Leslie Hakim-Dowek

The City that Exploded Slowly, 2009

When I was 5, my mother took me to a large department store, called Byblos, on Martyr’s Square. She bought my first schoolbag there. I remember it well and I see myself holding it: its rubbery texture, rounded corners and black and white colours, all still tangible in my mind. People in Beirut often wondered why this store never did well despite its incessant publicity. After the war and extensive excavations, it was discovered that the store’s foundations had encroached on the very first walls of Beirut, Birut or Birayat as it was then called in 15 BC. Some people thought that was probably the reason it was jinxed.

When I was 5, my mother took me to a large department store, called Byblos, on Martyr’s Square. She bought my first schoolbag there. I remember it well and I see myself holding it: its rubbery texture, rounded corners and black and white colours, all still tangible in my mind. People in Beirut often wondered why this store never did well despite its incessant publicity. After the war and extensive excavations, it was discovered that the store’s foundations had encroached on the very first walls of Beirut, Birut or Birayat as it was then called in 15 BC. Some people thought that was probably the reason it was jinxed.

The war started there, at the very heart of the city. There were no distant frontiers or vast battlefields on plains where battles unfolded. It was among the carts, chairs, chandeliers and ladders that it all began to dissolve. Death arrived among all that noise, and the first mutation of Beirut was by fire. The rockets and bullets fell endlessly, swallowing all the minutes and sounds, reversing the imagery of the city centre into an abyss. The flashes of the Stalin’s Organs replaced the glowing nodes of cars and buses. The cracked asphalt gave way to the wilderness that lay below. Only rabid dogs and rats roamed in this depopulated silence.

Inkjet Photographs printed on archival paper and texts. Framed Prints: 61.5 x 44cm and 31.5 x 43cm – framed text: 31.5 x 43cm. Only four-wall compositions will be exhibited out of a series of six.

In the photo-text series The City that Exploded Slowly, through a perspective of transcultural memories, Leslie Hakim-Dowek draws a parallel between her personal tale and the many transformations of Beirut through a conflict-ridden history. The city is portrayed, at first, as a complex multi-faceted space, then as a war-torn land which falls victim to excessive erasure following the end of the civil war to make way for a homogenised city centre complete with colonial pastiche and global brands. The powerful symbols of a historic urban centre and the traces of war are lost under an artificial veneer.

Revisiting year after year, there is a persistence to sustain post-memories from a diasporic viewpoint and the city is in turn depicted as psychic constructions of urban imaginaries of the old centre and as a material city, which is in “a constant process of erosion and dissolution”. One visual leitmotiv in the series is the snapshots of her mother as ‘flaneuse’ in the old Beirut through which the city is seen as a site of empowerment, of freedom and of potential realisations. In the text, it is stated that mother like daughter has formed her own geographies of the city and that “the city could not be expunged from their psyche” and thus her beloved Ottoman souks and Martyr’s Square have become phantom landmarks of her many wanderings.

One other recurring visual anchor of the series is the Martyrs statue, which was the iconic symbol of Beirut, situated in the main public square but now has been forgotten. Ironically, it marks the end of the Ottoman Empire and what was to become a fragmented history of sectarian divisions and conflicts.

Biography: Leslie Hakim-Dowek is a visual artist based in London of Lebanese origin. She is a senior lecturer in photography at the University of Portsmouth and the visual advisor/curator for the ‘Ottoman Pasts, Present Cities: Cosmopolitanism and Transcultural Memories AHRC Research’ project.

She has recently undertaken a portrait commission for the Photographers Gallery and Gulbenkian Foundation for the 2012 Olympic games title ‘The World in London’. She has exhibited widely in the UK and abroad including several group exhibitions including: ‘iCrossing’ part of the Brighton Fringe curated by Max Houghton and Yasmina Reggad, ‘The Dead’ curated by Val Williams and Greg Hobson, Mois de La Photo in Montreal and National Media Museum in Bradford; ‘Domestic Stories’, touring exhibition by the Impressions Gallery. Solo shows include ‘New Photographic Series’ at SPACE, Portsmouth; Manchester City Art Gallery. Her work is included in many private and public international collections.

website: http://www.lesliehakimdowek.net

For the exhibition home page, click here.
For Aikaterini Gegisian’s exhibition page, click here.
For Paris Petridis’s exhibition page, click here.
For Alev Adil’s performance details, click here.

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