Songs of Loss and Songs of Love in Gwangju Museum of Art

Raed Yassin - Ruins In Space, 2014 - installation view

Raed Yassin - Ruins In Space, 2014 - installation view

Songs of Loss and Songs of Love, curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath is the latest exhibition in Gwangju Museum of Art in Gwangju, South Korea. It is on till 13th July 2014. The exhibitoin caught my attention because its title and the artwork featuring Oum Kalthoum in Raed Yassin's piece, "Ruins In Space" (pictured above). 

The premise of the exhibition is based on an imagined encounter between two singers: Oum Kulthoum (1904-1975) from Egypt and Lee Nan-Young (1916-1967). Both legendary within their geographical and cultural spheres, the two singers were in Paris at the same time in 1967. Oum Kulthoum was there to give a concert at the prestigious Olympia theatre. Lee Nan-Young was passing through on her way back to Korea from New York where her daughters, the famous Kim Sisters singers, had made their 20th appearance on CBS's Ed Sullivan show.

According to the fictional tale that has been conceived as a framework for this exhibition, Lee Nan-Young would attend Oum Kulthoum's concert and fall in love with her music. She would see her backstage. Over the next few days, the two Divas would meet several times in the cafes of Paris. They would discuss politics and compare life-stories. Over the course of a few days, a bond was forged and a promise to visit and collaborate was made. But what happened next was lost until now.

Today, the exhibition Songs of Loss and Songs of Love looks at fulfilling Oum Kulthoum's promise to visit Lee Nan-Young in Korea. It uses fictional storytelling to raise questions about the “(im) possibility of cultural exchange” and “merges the realms of fiction with reality engulfing the visitors as participants within an imagined encounter”.  

The exhibition includes new and old work by 18 artists, echoing the themes loss and love in two seminal songs, Oum Kulthoum's Al-Atlal (The Ruins) and Lee Nan-Young's The Tears of Mokpo. The artists in this exhibition include: 

Adel Abidin, Manal Al Dowayan, Ghada Amer, Ziad Antar, Ali Cherri, Fouad El Khoury, Mounir Fatmi, Pascal Hachem, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joriege, Mohssin Harraki, Mona Hatoum, Mohammed Kazem, Nicene Kossentini, Shirin Neshat, Zineb Sedira, Vahid Sharifian, Khaled Takreti and Raed Yassin

Here's a selection of some of the works from the exhibition. 

Adel Abidin

Video excerpt of Three Love Sings, 2010 | 3 channel video installation | Duration 8'41" min | Courtesy of the artist and Hauser and Wirth

Adel Abidin's Three Love Songs features three blonde Scandinavian singers perform an Iraqi song each. These were commissioned throughout the 1980s and 1990s as nationalist anthems promoting the totalitarian rule of the infamous Saddam Hussein who was deposed and executed in 2006 after ruling over Iraq for a period of 27 years.

The singers, who do not speak or understand Arabic, are directed to perform as though they were singing love songs. This contradiction mirrors the power of seduction in the propaganda of totalitarian regimes.

Ghada Amer 

Ghada Amer - The Words I Love the Most, 2012 | Bronze with black patina | 60 x 60 x 60 inches / 152.8 x 152.8 x 152.8 cm | Edition 2/6, 1 AP | Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery, Seoul

In this intense line of sculptural experimentation, Ghada Amer resorts to the primeval shape of the oval. She models the void playing with the dynamics of concealment and transparency.

The works can be read in three-dimensional terms, or as flat pictorial surfaces where spectators can suddenly discover and fix the image of figures or read words in Arabic script.

Mounir Fatmi

Mounir Fatmi - Save Manhattan 03, 2007 | Sound architecture, speakers, sound system, soundtrack, light and shadow | 500 x 250 x 100 cm | Courtesy of the artist and Nadour collection | Photo credit: Argauer kunsthaus

Mounir Fatmi's Save Manhattan 03 is a reflection on the disastrous events of September 11, 2001. It consists of 90 speakers placed on the floor and a soundscape of a congested city emanating from behind the speakers.

A light is projected onto the speakers to create a shadow resembling the famous skyline of New York City and its iconic twin towers. The installation presents the city as if it were a body that breathes, that lives, that suffers and that is capable of resisting even the most catastrophic of losses.

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige 

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige - The Lebanese Rocket Society - A tribute to dreamers - PART III: The Golden Record | Video installation and frieze | 19 minutes | Co produced by The Lyon Biennale, 2011

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige's The Lebanese Rocket Society - A Tribute to Dreamers (2011-2013) is an ongoing project that explores Lebanon’s remarkably successful, yet completely forgotten, space endeavors of the 1960s.

Although the program was successful, it came to a sudden end in 1967 and was erased from the collective memory of Lebanese Society. This project deconstructs the mythologies of the 1960s by questioning the lost memory of an entire generation belonging to this time period. 

Shirin Neshat 


Shirin Neshat - Turbulent, 1998 | Video Installation | Duration 10 min | Courtesy artist and Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York

Shirin Neshat's Turbulent consists of two channels, displayed on opposing walls with two films in black and white. On one screen, a male performer sings a soulful rendition of a traditional poem by the poet Rumi (1207-73) with orchestral accompaniment.On the opposite screen, a woman stands still with her back towards him.

As soon as he finishes his performance, she begins hers. While connected through music, the two characters never come together and remain at opposing poles.

Zineb Sidera 

Zineb Sedira - Untitled, 2008 | C-print 50 x 60 cm | Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris

Set on a ship cruising from Algiers to Marseilles, Middle Sea unravels like a ballad, a visual meditation on the state of transit. Combining unnervingly high pitches with the heavy breathing of the ship’s engine, it reinforces the overruling feeling of melancholic uneasiness and gives to Middle Sea a depth inaccessible to the visual alone.

In Zineb Sidera's Untitled, 2008, for instance, two ships huddle anthropomorphically together the side of one a gaping, hollow wound.

Raed Yassin


Raed Yassin - Ruins In Space, 2014 | Archival inkjet print, text, sound, speaker, record cover, vinyl record | Variable dimensions | Courtesy of Kalfayan Galleries (Athens- Thessaloniki)

Raed Yassin's Ruins in Space, specifically commissioned for this exhibition, is a fictional narrative based on actual material that lends it realistic potential. It revolves around the two legendary singers Oum Kulthoum and Lee Nan-Young, whose imagined encounter provides the exhibition’s conceptual framework.

Making reference to Oum Kulthoum’s seminal song Al-Atlal (The Ruins), this project, in essence, is about rewriting musical history, and an allegory to the notion that space is the utopian arena, defying language, geography and time; connecting people wherever they are, and at whatever era they exist.  

If you are in Gwangju, do visit this exhibition. I leave you with the two songs that inspired the exhibition. 

Oum Kulthoum - Al-Atlal (The Ruins)

Lee Nan-Young - The Tears of Mokpo

Exhibition details:

Dates: On till  13th July 2014

Venue: Gwangju Museum of Art in Gwangju, South Korea