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Issue 149

1—130 Nour Bishouty
by Reyhan Yazdani

Nour Bishouty’s artist book 1—130 (2020) documents her engagements with 130 paintings and sculptures created in Lebanon and Jordan by her father Ghassan. Published by Toronto’s Art Metropole, the book brings together the perspectives of designers Laura Pappa and Lotte Lara Schröder as well as of editor and curator Jacob Korczynski to bear on this collection of Ghassan’s work.

The objects that Nour reflects on include not only tangible ones (such as physical paintings, sculptures, images, and notes) but also abstract thoughts, feelings, and memories related to her father’s life. Collected and assembled in 1—130, her reflections are also the result of ongoing research, as well as two years of conversations with Korczynski. Nour’s dialogue with her father’s practice occurs in plural formats that include storytelling, descriptive writing, and digital collages.

  • COVER DESIGN: LAURA PAPPA AND LOTTE LARA SCHRÖDER

The book’s front and back covers horizontally expand to reveal a numbered list of 130 works by Ghassan, including thumbnails of vases, oil paintings, jugs, busts, and other objects. Among the English titles of works such as The Lovers, Boat (c. 1984), Dancer (c. 1975), Heterosexual Couple (c. 1970–1973), and Untitled Seascape (c. 1992), I recognize a few untranslated Arabic words, such as Ghouroub (c. 1986), Al Wadi (c. 1981–1983), and Al Majlis (c. 1981). These instances of untranslated Arabic offer Arabic-speaking audiences a different access point to the text.

At 24 cm x 32 cm the book is tactile, and its physicality calls for a mindful attentiveness while holding it. It takes up space as an object—for me, the book itself is object number 131. Because the unnumbered pages of 1—130 constantly shift between horizontal and vertical orientations, the reading experience calls for an embodied and physical reorientation of the book-as-object.

1—130 is profoundly multilayered in meaning and purpose. Not only does it pay homage to and commemorate Ghassan—it also speaks to a sense of assemblage by rearranging and indexing stories of Nour’s father’s life and art practice. Nour indexes her father’s work in a way that makes sense to both herself and her father’s stories, allowing for a new form of cataloguing that departs from common art-historical categorization based on thematic affinities or chronological order. In “#55,” Nour writes of her indexation method: “I collect objects, sometimes. Not systematically but also not at random. #55 has no discernible function, probably no monetary value, and falls easily outside the economics of any art market.”

Just as Nour’s indexation challenges how we organize art, her research on her father’s work complicates the genre of the artist monograph by foregrounding plural interpretations of Ghassan’s art. Nour manipulates photographs of her father’s paintings by digitally separating objects within the paintings to create collaged versions of the source image. Instead of offering a conclusive portrait of her father, the fragmented collages match the discontinuity of Ghassan’s life in diasporic exile from Palestine, to Lebanon and Jordan. These collages lend themselves to a multitude of interpretations, generously inviting the reader to collaboratively make sense of the text. Near the beginning of the book, Nour writes, “A physical object is an identifiable collection of atoms constrained by an identifiable boundary and may move in space by translation or rotation.” Here, Nour’s definition of translation aligns with the text, where objects of Ghassan’s life and art practice move between a multiplicity of interpretations.

In the second half of the book, multiple voices narrate anecdotes related to war and displacement. One of these voices is Margo, Nour’s grandmother. In a textual fragment titled “#75,” Nour shares the story of how Margo lost her second child to violence: “My grandmother, Margo, told me one time that her third child was born in his amniotic sac. ‘In a blue veil.’ Her second, Manzer, was murdered in Lebanon on or around Christmas Eve 1979. Her fourth, Nabila, became completely blind in Amman in 1991. But Ghassan survived because he was born protected. They say a child born in its caul can never drown.” Elsewhere in the book, textual fragments like “another bullet” and “2 mm discrepancy” recall Ghassan’s injury during the Lebanese Civil War. Through these voices, layers of generational trauma unfold to emphasize the continuous impact of displacement and violence.

From family photos to self-portraits, from oilon-canvas paintings to digital collages, from a VHS video to a series of printed frames, from handwritten notes to an index, from stories to reflections, the text repeatedly shifts between the past and the present, between daughter and father, between memory and imagination, between Palestine and Jordan, and between Arabic and English. This constant reorientation of objects, people, places, and histories tremendously enriches the text by offering a plurality of narratives and voices that generatively resist any singular viewpoint. Overall, 1—130 offers a complex and poetic understanding of identity, place, and memory in both its form and its content.

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