Mounira Al SolhSilicone, Poppies and a Couple of Invisible Deffs2022oil on canvas235 x 206 cm
Mounira Al SolhSheikh Imam as Seen by2022oil on canvas45 x 35 cm
Mounira Al SolhBrown Fish; His Voice2022oil on canvas206 x 183 cm
Mounira Al SolhSkulls, Hands and Hearts, in Her Red2022oil on canvas99 x 70 cm
Mounira Al SolhSheikh Imam as Seen by2022oil on canvas44,5 x 74 cm
Mounira Al SolhThe Sea, in Love; and the Cockroach Sings2022oil on canvas162 x 209 cm
Mounira Al SolhIlluminated Darkness2022oil on canvas97 x 71 cm
Mounira Al SolhWanted, Blind, Beloved, in Jail and on the Sea2022mixed media on paper59,2 x 41,8 cm
Mounira Al SolhWanted, Blind, Beloved, in Jail and on the Water2022ink, gouache, watercolour, collage, pencil and pen on paper 59,2 x 41,8 cm
Mounira Al SolhYa Habibi Ya Eini2022oil on canvas82,5 x 134,5 cm
Mounira Al SolhI Wish We Were Her Golden Milk2022oil on canvas144,5 x 104 cm
Mounira Al SolhThe Un-Musical Vase2022video played on old IPhone placed in vase (edition of 5)
Photo: Peter CoxCourtesy Zeno X Gallery, AntwerpInstallation view
Mounira Al Solh presents her first solo exhibition at Zeno X Gallery, following an initial presentation of her work in the group exhibition OFF ROAD II in 2021. The exhibition Lovers, Nahawand and Saba consists of new paintings as well as works on paper and a film.
The exhibition evokes images of Beirut’s rich music scene: it flourished in the 1950s and 1960s and then bloomed again after the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90). The paintings conjure up the elated atmosphere that prevailed in the numerous concert halls and cafés, but also refer to the rich film industry from Egypt, Syria and Morocco, in which singers often featured in leading roles.
Al Solh’s exuberant use of colour is reminiscent of the flamboyant, occasionally kitschy sets of Middle Eastern TV shows and concerts. Famous musicians from the Arab world such as Umm Kulthum, Fairuz, Sabah and Samira Tawfik as well as Sabah Fakhri are shown without being literally portrayed; rather, the paintings call up the charisma or aura of the performers and refer to the content of their most famous songs. Just as a certain smell or taste can propel someone to a far-off moment, music can also evoke certain feelings from the past. Fairuz’s songs, for instance, remind Mounira Al Solh of mornings as a child during the Lebanese Civil War; many of Fairuz’s songs are listened to in the Arab world in the morning because both the rhythms and the lyrics have a compelling effect. The painting The Sea, in Love; and the Cockroach Sings also illustrates a personal memory of a committed Egyptian singer her parents met in the 1970s.
‘Nahawand’, ‘Saba’ and ‘Ou’shak’ (playfully translated as ‘Lovers’) are three names of keys used in Arabic, Turkish and Persian music. After all, music transcends linguistic as well as geographical boundaries and brings people together. From Syria and Morocco to Iraq and Sudan, for instance, people know the same live recordings of Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, or Warda and Baligh Hamdi, including the cheers and applause of the audience. The Arabic words and phrases in Al Solh’s paintings are sonic elements which, like the many other visual elements, evoke several associations and lend rhythm to the compositions.
The words can often also be read as voices rising up against injustice. Music played an important role during the Lebanese revolution in 2019. The resistance was mainly led by women and young people, with dancing and singing in the streets as a peaceful form of protest. Music can also help process trauma, such as the recent explosion at the Port of Beirut on 4 August 2020.
The film The Un-Musical Vase is a compilation of self-made clips in which Al Solh dances and sings, as a way to warm up and relax in the studio. To amplify the music in her studio, the artist often uses a vase. The short music videos refer to the ubiquity of dance videos on social media – with technical imperfections – and the way people shared intimate videos with each other during the pandemic. With this work, Al Solh explores the boundaries between the private and public spheres.
Mounira Al Solh (1978) lives and works in the Netherlands and Lebanon. She studied painting at the Lebanese University in Beirut and fine arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. From 2006 to 2008 she was a resident at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam.
In 2017 she participated in documenta 14 in Kassel and Athens. In 2022 she had solo exhibitions at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and Felix Nussbaum Haus in Osnabrück. Other solo exhibitions took place at Mori Art Museum in Tokyo (2020), Musée National Pablo Picasso in Vallauris (2020), The Art Institute of Chicago (2018), Mathaf in Doha (2018), Alt Art Space in Istanbul (2016), KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin (2014), Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow (2013), Art in General in New York (2012) and Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (2011).