Though artist and composer Zad Moultaka has Lebanese roots and created ŠamaŠ to represent Lebanon at the 57th National Venice Biennale, only as of this June did the work showcase in Beirut. The exhibition, on at the Sursock Museum, drew to a close on 25 June, but will continue to exhibit in Finland, England and Norway before having its final showing in Australia.
The work, commissioned by the National Lebanese Pavilion, curated by Emmanuel Daydé, and produced by Nadine Saddi Zaccour, is a monumental collaboration of the senses. Combining form, material, visual research, technology, sound and musical innovation, the work fuses tradition with modernity to create a large-scale installation. Featuring a 1950s bomber motor set against a glittering wall intended to reference the Golden Calf, a deepened sense of mythical energy is conveyed by Moultaka’s accompanying soundtrack of a twilight chant inspired by a mix of ancient languages. With text appropriated from sources such as hymns from the Sumerian god of justice, Akkadian fragmentation and celestial melodies, the 32 voices that sing the piece come together in a haunting cacophony over the buzzing of the bomber reactor.
‘The ŠamaŠ project has its origin in the Code of Hammurabi, considered the first code of law, engraved on a tall, black basalt stele nearly 2,000 years before our era,” said Moultaka in a statement. “At the top of this majestic totem is represented ŠamaŠ, the Sun god. Just as light disperses shadows, ŠamaŠ exposes evil in full light and puts an end to injustice.” The incorporation of relics and symbolism also sees ŠamaŠ refer to the prophecy of an Arab apocalypse, and seeks to raise questions about what remains sacred and man’s humanity. These propositions – in particular relation to the violent histories and circumstances of Ur, Beirut and Aleppo – are posed through sound. But Moultaka is not representing a bleak inevitability. The project remit explains as a final note: “In this tragedy befalling the Middle East, ŠamaŠ thus makes violence sing for want of silencing it.”
Zad Moultaka’s works can be seen in Beirut at Galerie Janine Rubeiz. Pavillonlibanvenise2017.com