ODE TO 2020

This text was originally written for ONDA’s Rida of 20/11/2010, where I was invited to take partr of a meeting in the prpesence of 80 international performing arts programmers.

No business on a dead planet (…) I can’t breathe (…) Me too (…) Leave no one behind (…) How many suicides do you still need? .(…). System change, not climate change (…) We have space (…) They tried to kill us, they didn’t know we were seeds (…) No justice, no peace

These are some of the slogans that have stayed with me this year, from various movements across the globe. I feel as if we’re living in a condensed period of time where the world, exposed to itself through the digital life under lockdown, is simultaneously spilling out its ugliest and most gracious qualities.

The past year of my life has been a succession of crises and loss of bearings. And while I’m lucky enough today to have regained a seeming sense of security, I keep churning in my head the intensity of these recent experiences, in an attempt to see more clearly and to integrate something other than the mourning of a homeland.
Any disruption of an established order brings to the foreground what was once part of an ordinary landscape. So I feel the urge to slow down time to meditate on this transitory period, before the essential is rendered invisible again by a new reestablished order.

On October 17, 2019, the Lebanese revolution began with the occupation of public space, lending visibility to our various social bodies, previously divided by excessive privatisation, cronyism and sectarianism. The streets reunited a population in extraordinary joy and an abundant, choreographic force. It was an unprecedented popular momentum and yet, I never felt so lonely. The paradox of the crowd.

A few weeks later, dramatic unfoldings in front of banks that had hijacked their customers’ money, alongside mass layoffs, deviated the international media’s attention from the Lebanese jet-setter stereotype, to shed light on the misery of the most vulnerable, the empty fridges, the homeless, and the stories of suicides over ridiculously small debts. All the while, hyperinflation worsened and we witnessed the crumbling of an economy and a banking sector which, like sand castles, were built on delusion. But how were we living before? How could this have lasted all these years? What could we have done differently, had we been better informed? Who is responsible, and who isn’t? All the lines are blurred. We have lost everything, including our ability to lament our fate.

Here is when Covid arrived. A global menace which, paradoxically, relieved me from day-to-day anxieties such as stocking up on lively goods whose prices were skyrocketing. Despite the tragedy unfolding in front of my screen and the terror of losing loved ones, there was something fantastic about it all: the future was postponed! This idea obsessed and exhilarated me, I literally felt the weight of the future leaving my chest and vowed to forget that feeling. Except that reality quickly caught up, and the virus which appeared to unite the world by making no distinction whatsoever, was in fact acting as a magnifying mirror reflecting our dysfunctions.

The pandemic highlighted the global imbalance in the extraction, exploitation and distribution of global resources, alongside the inequality of opportunities and the privilege that some hold at the expense of injustice endured by others. It brought to the foreground the elderly, the immunocompromised, the essential workers, the frontliners, and all those who don’t have the luxury to stay home, among which was a striking majority of people of color and cultural minorities, working in the service of the white privileged.

It is in this global context that on May 25, 2020, screens across the entire world bore witness to the brutal murder of George Floyd in the United States. The racial disparity of police violence which previously stirred up local communities, enraged the entire planet. The question of systemic racism, in relation to colonialism, was now being addressed seriously and profoundly all over the world and in all disciplines, some hundred years late.

Back to Beirut. On August 4, 2020, my apartment exploded and with it, those of my friends, family, colleagues and neighbours. The entire city exploded. A bloody, gutted city. A traumatic historical event about which it is far too early to speak of sensibly. But I’d like to share with you the symbolic strength of an image, that of an entire city that lost all its doors and all its windows, and whose survivors had no choice but to look at each other, with no intermediary, and zero protection.

So there goes my brief run down of a year of crises, a year when I lost so much, but perhaps gained the ability to see better. A year that has not stopped putting everything into perspective, and that I am still wading through.

Where does my artistic practice stand in all of this? I have no clear answer yet. For now, I’m busy rebuilding a life without turning a blind eye on what these fresh experiences have brought to light, even if I’m likely to make new mistakes. I’m looking at how to reestablish economic security without the race against time, the calendar obsession, and the sickening pressure of productivity. I’m thinking of ways to better organise my time and headspace to be able to reconcile my artistic practice, which fills me with life, with my work as a yoga therapist which improves the quality of the lives of others. All without feeling overwhelmed.

For me, 2020 is an ode to the breath, to uncertainty and to degrowth. It is a year which calls each and everyone of us to continuously refresh our gaze upon the current course of history and address essential questions, some of which I’d like to share with the programmers and artists present here today:

How can we look at others outside the frame of our own limited language and knowledge, beyond our assumptions, projections, privilege or fear?

What is our responsibility, both individually and collectively, in the struggle to abolish cultural discrimination and ensure real equality when it comes to listening and granting opportunities to underrepresented voices, instead of settling for tokenism and box ticking?

How can we step outside of an Anglo-European-centric vision of contemporaneity in order to recognize and encourage innovation in works that experiment with so-called traditional forms, instead of framing them into stereotypes and putting hurdles along the path of collective progress?

What is our shared responsibility towards our audiences, not only when it comes to the choice of the works that we present but also to the way we communicate about them? How can we decolonise, but also de-exoticise and de-orientalise our language?

How can we replace hierarchical order with horizontal community building within artistic and cultural institutions? Can we shift the focus to the process rather than the end product, offering more space, time and attention to reflection, dialogue and risk-taking initiatives?

How can we respond to the climate emergency and contribute, at the level of artistic production, to the global reduction of environmental damage, whilst making sure that the compromises are not only made at the expense of international artistic dialogue, since social justice and environmental justice are undeniably linked?

And lastly, how do we adapt to a world that is changing at an increasing speed and, whether we like it or not, is more and more dependent on technology? Isn’t it ever more urgent that we remain informed and take control of technological developments, so as not to leave them exclusively in the dangerous hands of the ignorants who govern us? 

Concluding with the words of Buckminster Fuller: “It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known.  It no longer has to be you or me.  Selfishness is unnecessary.  War is obsolete.  It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry.” (Critical Path, 1981)