Home in the Age of Globalization

Camille Zakharia: Double Vue Review
Bahraini-French Cultural Centre
Muharraq, Kingdom of Bahrain
May 7–June 19, 2008
Originally printed in the July/August 2008 issue of Afterimage
Image of Zakharia' Muharraq 3s

Bahrain, like many of the other countries within the Arabian Gulf region, is grappling with tremendous growth and change. For some it offers a wealth of business opportunities, while for others it raises concern because of its rapid development. Nestled in a historic alley in Muharraq, a governorate of Bahrain, lies the Bahraini-French Cultural Centre, which recently hosted Camille Zakharia’s solo exhibition “Double Vue,” consisting of playful yet contemplative, documentary-style photographs, examining notions of identity and globalization in regard to Bahrain. According to Zakharia, the driving force behind this exhibition is that “a culture can be erased without substantial documentation.”(1)

Born in Tripoli, Lebanon, Zakharia began photographing at the age of 17 when he began college at the American University of Beirut. During his time in Beirut from 1980 to 1985, the civil war continued to escalate and he sought to photograph the Lebanon he once knew. In 1985, he fled the country and has since lived in the United States, Canada, Greece, Turkey, and Bahrain. The one thing that has remained constant in his life has been his photography. Zakharia states,

My fascination with urban landscapes dates back to my earliest photographs taken in Beirut over twenty years ago. Inspired by the effect of the war on Beirut’s buildings and their inhabitants and driven by a desire to observe and document structures of every kind, whether they housed families, businesses or rituals, I began a journey that has taken me around the world photographing the cities that at some point or another in my life, I called home. (2)

His photography is not only a reflection of the places that he documents, but the work also embodies himself—longing for the home he once knew—knowing that the world that he lives in is fleeting and that one day, the things one may take for granted may no longer be there.

Keeping this in mind, the setting for Zakharia’s exhibition to address his impetus is most appropriate. A former Bahraini traditional home, the Bahraini-French Cultural Centre consists of an open courtyard surrounded by a series of modest-sized rooms in which the work resided. The exhibition not only contained thoughtful juxtapositions of photographs but the show’s relationship to the space allowed for a series of interesting and mindful associations.

Zakharia had drawn some of the photographs in the show from his archives and recontextualized the images to create this body of work, much like the way historic Arabic ornamentation has been appropriated onto contemporary buildings as the new architecture displaces the visual identity of traditional Bahrain.

Images of older buildings juxtaposed beside their contemporaries induced a sense of nostalgia and longing for the past as the impact of globalization redefines the character of Bahrain. The imagery becomes more complex and dynamic under closer scrutiny. Muharraq 3 (2008), which evokes a sense of warmth and comfort even though no inhabitants can be found, is a four-image, black-and-white composite that presents a seemingly panoramic view of an aged building. Three of the images are of the same building, taken at three slightly different positions, resulting in a playful and quirky interaction, while the fourth image on the right is from a different building. Surprisingly, they work well together, causing one to almost not question the true nature of their existence or authenticity. Zakharia states that the old buildings “evoke in me a sense of grandeur to a sophisticated way of living, disappearing fast with the new wave of development happening in the overall region.… They carry an organic look which blends well within the environment they are in.… I can hear through the cracks kids playing, stories told, songs played [and] smell the spices of the food.”(3)

In contrast to this nostalgia, New Developments (2008), which presents two images side-by-side that depict recent construction, suggests alienation, isolation, and indifference. The left image presents a birds-eye view of a recently constructed building within a sparse desert environment. The right image presents an ominous phallic structure framed by a nearby concrete structure.

Not all the works in the exhibit are socially motivated. Some are more formal such as After the Rain (2008), which depicts four palm trees reflected in puddles, or Circles (2008), which draws upon the palm tree and architectural elements found in Bahrain to create interesting juxtapositions. While Circles and After the Rain present engaging formal explorations, it is Zakharia’s social commentary works that are the most powerful and thought provoking. Zakharia’s photography is not only a reflection of the places that he documents, but the work also embodies himself—longing for the home he once knew and knowing that the world that he lives in is fleeting.

1. Author interview with Camille Zakharia on May 8, 2008.
2. Camille Zakharia, Artist Statement, “Double Vue” (Kingdom of Bahrain: Awal Press, 2008).
3. Author email interview with Camille Zakharia on May 17, 2008.

Posted September 2008