Akram Zaatari (Sidon, Lebanon, 1966) is a prominent member of the generation of artists who emerged in Lebanon in the 1990s after the end of the civil war that ravaged the country for over fifteen years. He is also a co-founder of the Arab Image Foundation, a project promoted in the post-war years by artists and photographers to build from the inside alternative stories to the official visual history written by foreigners. Zaatari’s artistic practice focuses on photographic objects, ‘photographic formations or emergences’ as he calls them. The back of a photograph can be as important as its front, as well as the signs that the passage of time leaves on the support. For Zaatari, collecting photographs is a way of undoing and rewriting that is no less important than the act of capturing images.
This exhibition stems from the interest in this critical intersection between the archive and artistic practices and brings together some twenty series of works, most of them new. Through photographs, videos, objects and installations, the exhibition presents a subjective look at the activities and evolution of the Arab Image Foundation, an institution that in its twenty year history has amassed over 600,000 images from the Near East and North Africa. The AIF collections demonstrate the great formal, technological and iconographic changes that have taken place in photography over the last 150 years. Akram Zaatari. Against Photography. An Annotated History of the Arab Image Foundation, curated for MACBA by Hiuwai Chu, will be shown until 25 September in Barcelona and will travel to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, in 2018, where it will be curated by Bartomeu Marí.
Over the last twenty years, the AIF has been the means through which Zaatari has developed much of his work. For this exhibition, the artist has produced a chronology that traces the growth of the collection and the diversity of the provenance of the AIF’s materials. It is accompanied by a book in three volumes, with texts by co-author Ian B. Larson, describing the contents of its different histories and the circumstances of their incorporation. Four ideas stand out: the consideration of photographs as objects; the question of ownership of the collections and whether or not they are physically part of the AIF collection, or only digitally part; a reflection on the preservation of photographic archives; and, finally, the idea of the imprint left by the collections.
Zaatari does not think of the AIF as a mere keeper of documents, but as an institution that is ideally placed to challenge and rethink the concept of archiving and to question the definition of photography in its most fundamental sense.