Manal Abu-Shaheen records a city in the midst of being overtaken by billboards but still, for now, showing its history.
Beirut’s ever-changing landscape is the subject of [Manal] Abu-Shaheen’s exhibition Beta World City, now on view at Lord Ludd. Through beautifully composed black-and-white photographs and sourced architectural renderings, the artist seeks to create a visual record of Beirut’s contemporary landscape because little formal documentation of the city exists. She likened the city to “a family without a family album,” adding, “I am building my own photographic archive of what Beirut looks like today: a city dominated by billboards.”
In both the architectural pieces and the artist’s photographs, Western companies offer images of an idealized life that is largely at odds with the reality surrounding the advertisements. In “Kate Winslet. Beirut, Lebanon” (2016), a larger-than-life Winslet reclines in a park sporting a Longines watch. In “Ripple. Beirut, Lebanon” (2016), an advertisement featuring a tropical domestic landscape sits at street level in front of what appears to be an apartment complex. Yet the black and white flattens the imagery, making it hard to decipher where the billboard ends and the real world begins. The apartment building itself could easily be an ad: It looks brand new and shows no signs of life.