‘A Lebanese Archive’: A Photo Collection that Spans 100 Years of Arab History

Inspired by the collection of the retired Lebanese photojournalist Diab Alkarssifi and creatively arranged by the Polish artist Ania Dabrowska, a new high-quality Art book aims to proudly exhibit and otherwise expand on an incredible archive of Lebanese and Arab photographs passionately collected over a lifetime. Now a Kickstarter campaign has been launched to help make it a reality! With three weeks to go, you can contribute up until 27 September, 2014.

The rare archive underpinning the project boasts approximately 27,000 photographs that follow over one hundred years of Arab history. Book Works, who will be the editors and co-publishers in London, need to raise £20,000 for its print and distribution whilst the Arab Image Foundation (AIF) in Beirut, Lebanon is committed to digitising the archive. The task at hand is to print an edition of 1,000 copies in full colour, with 240 pages and a soft cover at 210 x 270mm.

‘A Lebanese Archive’ will preserve a unique reflection of modern Arab history by telling the personal stories that accompany some of the images and presenting an otherwise lost view of a huge, diverse and fascinating region. The proposed date for publication is April, 2015.

Surprisingly, it was a chance encounter between the two artists that led to the collaboration; when at Arlington, a London hostel for homeless men, Ania Dabrowska was doing an art residency in 2010-2012 and Diab Alkarssifi was temporarily staying. When she invited him to the studio, he brought with him two carrier bags containing the thousands of photographic prints and negatives.

Born in 1951 in Baalbeck, Lebanon, he is a retried Arab photojournalist, collector and writer who studied Philosophy and Media in Moscow, Russia for some years before arriving in London in 1993, where he has been living ever since. Whilst Dabrowska, born in 1973 in Poland, is an artist with an established international reputation for photography and multi-media projects whose work looks into memory, identity, social engagement and collaborative processes.

Discovering Alkarssifi’s rich collection, the images are works from his photographic assignments over the years, of everyday life in his home city of Baalbeck, of his student years in the early 1970s in Moscow and Budapest; and, most extraordinarily, images he found from studios in Baalbeck, Beirut, Damascus and Cairo that portray Arab society and life in the Lebanon, Palestine, Kuwait, Egypt, Syria and Iraq.

These incredible pictures - all that survive of a much larger collection still hidden or lost in Lebanon – give such an intimate insight into the cultural, social and political history of the region, going from 1993 to as far back as 1889. And, in researching them, both embarked on a journey crossing continents to rediscover some of the missing parts of the collection and put into context the archival material within present day Lebanon.

The proposed Art book will clearly present Dabrowska’s valuable input in the assemblage, rearrangement and reinterpretation of the archive based on her conversations with Alkarssifi on history, photography and personal memory. It will also be punctuated by the exchange on the differences and similarities in their own cultural and political histories as well as text passages on visual art practice and the contemporary context of Lebanon and the Middle East.

Ultimately, ‘A Lebanese Archive’ will be a lasting legacy of a certain modern Arab heritage that has been lost in recent times; and, it will chart the wonderful story of the synchronistic event between two individuals for whom photography has shaped their lives as an instrument of affirming and discovering their identity.

This Kickstarter campaign truly offers the opportunity to take part in a wonderful project; and, with your help, you will receive one of several rewards and offers like unique artworks and limited editions by the artists.

More information on the campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/723440909/a-lebanese-archive-by-ani....

More information on the project: http://lwww.lebanesearchive.co.uk/

Note on Book Works

Established in 1984, Book Works is a London based art-commissioning organisation dedicated to supporting new work by emerging artists usually in the form of artist’s books, spoken word and printed matter. Its projects are initiated by invitation, open submission and through guest-curated projects. Its activities also range from publishing, a lecture and seminar programme, exhibitions, the development of an on-line archive and artists’ surgeries and workshops.

More information: https://www.bookworks.org.uk

Note on Arab Image Foundation (AIF)

The AIF is a non-profit organization established in Beirut, Lebanon in 1997 with a mission to collect, preserve and study photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora. The AIF’s expanding collection is generated through artist and scholar-led projects and it makes its collection accessible to the public through a wide spectrum of activities, including exhibitions, publications, videos, a website and an online image database.

More information: http://www.fai.org.lb/home.aspx

Images presented for this Nahla Ink article are with kind permission from Book Works: ‘A Lebanese Archive’ Prototype Image, Photo of Fatima Hammdo from Alkarssifi Family Album (1970s), Photo from Bloodlines with Diab Alkarssifi’s wife and first son Khalil (1989) and Photo of Swimmers, found photograph, Beirut (1977), Album of Hussein Saleh, collection of Diab Alkarssifi.