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Zena Assi's 'City Walls' confronts and moves the viewer at first glance. Rules and patterns are abolished and the viewer is drawn into a dense urban composition. Their gaze wanders over a conglomeration of façades, tangled power cables, signage, people and their everyday objects. Like ornaments or crowns, the city inhabitants are enthroned on top of the architecture. Exterior space and interior space merge, the location and scale of bodies and things are reinterpreted and they take on an alternate value.

It is the City of Beirut, which is being described, the city that the Lebanese multidisciplinary artist Zena Assi has left. She is one of the artists of the 'génération du chaos'. Growing up in Lebanon during the civil war, she only knew chaotic conditions culminating with the explosion in August 2020. Zena Assi's works internalise this chaos, blending in the socio-political history of Lebanon and taking a critical look at the society of her homeland.

There is the before and the after. Moving away from Beirut to London in 2014 changed the artist's perspective. With the newly-gained distance from home, she created the collage ‘Home is where the Chandelier hangs’ from her memory, reconfiguring the urban landscape and chaos in a new order. Concepts such as home, identity, belonging and life between two worlds are dissected and transformed into images. Lebanese and British cultures blend, a new (visual) language emerges and a reconciliation between both of her cultures takes place. ‘Home is where the Chandelier hangs’ is Zena Assi's interweaving of both her worlds. Her canvases and ceramics contain a kaleidoscope of people, symbols, calligraphies, and graffitis that represent home and identity. In the portraits on canvas featured in this exhibition, she plays with repetition and projection. The urban fabric is absorbed by the garment and is worn on the skin.

Zena Assi's work shows the commonplace and the true. They are poetic and turbulent. They are snapshots of her mood, they are immortalised flashes of her mind. She literally puts her memories of the two worlds together, unites them and thereby creates something new. The unleashed dynamics of the big city and its inhabitants captivate the viewer and never lets go.

Anne-Françoise Spillmann

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