July 21st 2015, two friends and I planned an impromptu trip to The Mosaic Rooms, London to see an exhibition titled “I Spy with my Little Eye: A New Generation of Beirut Artists”. It didn’t take us long at all to be pulled into the pieces on display each by a different emerging artist. Many of the pieces spoke to us deeply and easily became springboards to many a conversation both during and after our visit to the exhibition.
One of the pieces that we found very interesting in its simplicity was by London-based artist of Lebanese decent Aya Haidar. Her piece is titled “Return to Sender” and was conceptualized in 2013.
This piece was displayed on a wall in an otherwise empty room. At first, we all walked passed the bulletin board wondering where the art was displayed as the label for the piece was very discrete. I think that was part of the plan really. We looked around walls before taking a closer look at what was tacked onto the board and realised we’ve been looking at a piece all along, hidden in plain sight.
We then noticed that each envelope was that of an official World institute such as the United Nations, the National Associating for the Violation of Disabled People in Lebanon, and The Arab Thought Forum. A few of the logos were instantly recognizable and so our eyes would travel to the next visual then the next until we went back to take a closer look at each. It turned out that each of the official envelopes that have been circulated and stamped has been slightly altered to reveal a very different meaning to each institute. Haidar’s cleverly placed subtle modifications to each document revealed each institute’s ‘true’ colours. By doing so, she has successfully imposed a layer of language that focuses the viewer’s attention on the myriad of issues that such institutes unfortunately carry creating a narrative of questioning such ‘ethical’ bodies of power.
The way I see it, the way in which Aya had decided to execute this piece with such subtlety was what really made it so effective. The problems highlighted and questions posed on such large bodies of peacekeeping and human rights institutes are at the core of the piece; and yet they are not highlighted to the viewer and are not easily spotted at first glace. Rather, the layers are revealed and the issues that are being questioned hit home after the careful viewing and scrutiny of the several little parts of the piece that create the whole.
That being said, various audiences will have various sets of views, feelings and responses while interacting with the piece, but that is an entirely different discussion.