Opening: In the Presence / Absence of Mazen Kerbaj
Am I Lost?, mixed media on a map of Bologna, 2017, © Mazen Kerbaj
In one of his recent comic book series, Antoine, Mazen Kerbaj recounts the events of the day the Lebanese civil war ‘officially’ started. The main characters are his parents, Antoine and Laure that frequented Beirut’s notorious Hamra street cafes. The outbreak causes the play that Antoine was just about to perform to be postponed indefinitely and for him and Laure to flee to the other side of the city, cutting through what later will be called the green line and nearly escaping death. The book cuts to scenes from the play, where Antoine’s character is engrossed in a heated existential exchange with The Arab Destiny. It is 1975, the year Mazen was born.
Kerbaj’s art deploys two tropes that are not uncommon in underground comics: auto-biography and politics. An amalgamation of the personal and the historical. However, it extends beyond the panels of comics, it settles in space and is performed through the political body of the artist. Mazen is not only a witness, but like his father, he is an actor.
This show, combining new and old work and put together in this formation for the first time, draws parallels in time, medium and space. The pieces are put in dialogue, where an idea hastily scribbled on a restaurant’s placemat can be seen continued or developed in a live drawing video. It is like entering a room with a legion of Mazen Kerbajs talking, drawing, arguing and drinking together. Each one of them is the record of a particular moment and a new place; on a spectrum of sobriety; in a varying tongue; and also rendered in a different medium. Kerbaj is always on the move, and movement is both a condition of his work, and its subject.
The central piece —carrying the name of the show— orbits around a drawing station, left as though the artist was just there or perhaps is about to get back to it at any moment. This insertion of the physical body or its trace, blurs the line between the artist and his image.