Speech at the Conference in Copenhagen 2001
The works surrounding you in this hall are the results of two identities combined in one person. The first identity was constructed in the town of Beirut, the second in Copenhagen.
But let me give you an example of the way an artist living and working in Copenhagen, or in Europe, has always been pushed into his father’s house.
A Lebanese family living in Germany was confronted with a classical dilemma, which happened to be one of the good reasons, which I chose to base my art practice on. You can call it brutalism but I will always call it estheticism.
Diala and her engineer husband are a highly educated couple. Once she was a translator at an official office in the downtown of Essen in Germany for one of her neighbors. The clerk in charge could not believe that Diala was also a Lebanese as her neighbor. The clerk simply asked her: Are you a real Lebanese or Palestinian Lebanese or a Kurdish Lebanese? Diala asked: What is the difference and why do you ask? The answer came as such: If you are a Palestinian Lebanese then you must be dealing with stolen items. If you are Kurdish Lebanese then you must be dealing with drugs. And if you are a real Lebanese then you are a terrorist.
Now doesn’t this take us to the story In My Father’s House? Well I am a real Lebanese, and Lebanese I will stay. I have lived half of my life in Denmark, but Lebanese I will stay. I am an architect educated in Denmark, but Lebanese I will stay. I am a Ph.D. candidate, but Lebanese I will stay.
So apparently, if I am about to stay a Lebanese living in Europe, then why not use my inherited and my new adopted identity as a departure point for my art production. That, I assume, will keep me as mobile as possible enjoying myself not as a victim but rather as an undercover double agent working between both communities.
It is true that some of what you see here are war zone elements. But the way I combine these elements is the way I choose to tell you your story and mine, using your esthetic, your conceptual way of practicing art, and also to tell you that the way we are stereotyping the others can in some cases cause complicity.
But when we are living in an unjust world, my colleges and I are left no choice but to react. Artists are the barometers of society. Therefore their responsibility is to correct any wrong approach, or at least draw the attention to it, so we can fix it together.
I always like to end my talk with some of the famous Professor Thomas McEvilley’s fine observations about how is it to live as a mobile artist.
He looks into the conditions of non-western artists living in the west and this is what he has to say: “In hopes of entering the international art discourse, a non-western artist was to repress his or her inherited identity and assume a supposedly universal one, but the “universal” identity was just the emblem of another tribal cult that temporarily had the upper hand. Thus, modernist internationalism was a form of imperial assertion by which non-western cultures would assimilate to Western norms”.
Now whether I will repress my inherited identity or get myself assimilated, I guess I will always be stereotyped as a Lebanese. But you know what, I am determined to make the best out of it, and above all that I LIKE IT.
Khaled D. Ramadan
Installation artist. Sculptor.
Ph.D Cand. Art History. Architect maa.
Curator. Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art (NIFCA).Membership
Danish Sculptor Society (DBS). Board member.
Danish Artist Union (BKF). Board member.
Ministry of Culture Development Fund’s Focus Group
Danish Architect League (DAL)Education
Ph.D Cand. Art History. Copenhagen University.