Artist Credit: Nour Debian Image Credit: Katrine Dige Houmøller

Takeover’s ‘Tooth and Nail’ Explores the Human Body’s Battlefield

Within the Takeover room, a subtle emptiness prevails. The atmosphere tinged with a coolness accentuated by the mint-colored floor and white wires. Yet as you immerse yourself in the exhibition, ‘Tooth and Nail’, each art piece reveals a vibrant tapestry of warm narratives.

A photograph captured in Sour freezes a moment in time. A dove perches on a man’s foot. In another corner, a projector illuminates a canvas resting on a concrete block. Rusty metal lies on the ground, casting dancing shadows from nearby bushes. On a wall, a picture of a woman is suspended. Her face concealed behind her knee and a cascade of hair. 

Crossing over the Arabian carpet and beyond a white silk-like fabric feels like stepping into an alternate world. Here, a small table hosts a scrapbook brimming with personal stories. Dried flowers, pins, strands of hair, used panties, newspaper clippings, letters, and photos are whimsically pasted throughout its pages, creating a captivating collage of memories.

In the space on Abdul Wahab el-Inglizi Street in Achrafieh, Beirut, seven works from Takeover’s current exhibition are on display. These artworks aim to explore a spectrum of bodily experiences. From internal to physical, encompassing pain, surrender, trauma, and eroticism. These experiences vividly mirror the artists’ everyday lives in their contemporary surroundings.

“…Body as a place that we not only inhabit, but use to carve out our experiences in this world”

Since the exhibition opened on February 16th, approximately 70 people have visited, as reported by Takeover founder Ieva Saudargaitė Douaihi. The exhibition will run until February 28th.

Takeover describes its exhibition as a journey where the body, expressed through art, goes beyond its physical form. It reveals layers of identity, memory, and perception. Serving as a testament to memory, it recalls life’s enduring traces, exposing the raw essence of survival, where the fight is waged using primitive tools: teeth and nails.

“We called it ‘Tooth and Nail’ to invite artists to think about our body as a place that we not only inhabit, but use to carve out our experiences in this world,” says Ieva.

The exhibition started with an open call. The jury, including Ghassan Salhab, Ieva Saudargaitė Douaihi, Marc Ghazali, and Marie-Nour Hechaime, had the challenge of choosing works that aligned with the theme, complemented each other, explored diverse topics, and showcased a strong aesthetic and concept. However, it was the distinctive dialogue between the chosen works that stood out most, emphasized by Ieva.

After a joint assessment, seven artists were selected from the array of applicants to display their work. They are Afram Chamoon, Ghayyan al Amine, Matthieu Karam, Mayssa Khoury, Nader Bahsoun, Nour Debian, and Rojer Feghali.

From passion to art

Back in July 2023, artist Nour Debian found herself in Paris, grappling with a sense of loneliness. Seeking solace in creativity, she embarked on the journey of crafting a scrapbook. The endeavor began with a random notebook from a library, evolving into the art piece ‘Genital Love.’

It’s a generous part of Nour that loves to give, overlay, and delve into fantasies on a small canvas, reminiscent of her childhood.

“It never really starts with an idea, but more like a certain need or a desire,” Nour says.

In her creative journey, Nour found a newfound need for tenderness, diverging from her prior, more violent approach evident in her painting. Crafting the book grounded her, fostering a deliberate slowness and a tenderness akin to the maternal touch of sewing.

She completed the book in January this year.

“But it’s a book that could continue evolving more and more, and that’s what I find beautiful. You’re never really done with it,” Nour says.

Another artist featured in the exhibition is Matthieu Karam. Amidst his regular visits to Sour before the war, always with his camera in tow, a distinctive scene unfolded on a day in January 2023 at the bustling port. 

In the midst of the usual activity, a lone man, clad in swimming shorts and a t-shirt, captured Matthieu’s attention. The man shared his space with a group of pigeons. Although Matthieu had previously captured the birdhouse in his lens, the symbiosis between the man and the pigeons was a novel sight. The birds perched on the man, and he casually fed them.

“What caught my eye is the way his body and their body just become an extension of each other. There was no barrier between the birds or the human,” reflects Matthieu.

Matthieu’s intention was to freeze a transient moment where the legs of the pigeons seamlessly blended with the man’s. Now, this photograph, titled ‘Extension,’ takes its place in the exhibition at Takeover.

Playground and battlefield

When Takeover put out a call for applications centered around the human body as a playground or battlefield, Matthieu identified his own photo fitting into this theme. The image, portraying the man’s body as a playground for the birds, resonated deeply with the intended narrative.

“That, I believe, was the core concept behind the photo—without delving too deeply into it. Sometimes, you simply capture a fleeting, beautiful moment that evokes emotions, and the natural inclination is to immortalize it,” Matthieu says.

As Nour devoted more time to her book, it transformed to more than a mere scrapbook. Intricately linked to weaving, it incorporated fabrics, objects, artifacts, and images. Weaving played a crucial role in conveying the book’s intention, rooted in Nour’s persistent concern.

“There’s always this question of how to love this body better, how to understand it better, and how to feel a certain empathy for it. And constantly question your relationship with it. I think it’s a spectrum—a range of emotions and many questions,” Nour shares.

Now, her scrapbook finds its place in Takeover’s exhibition, unfolding narratives of the body, its struggles, and anxieties.