Cistern, Benz, by Dia Mrad. Part of 'Utilities' at Dubai's Zawyeh Gallery / Image credit: Dia Mrad
Utilities / Dia Mrad
Jan 11 – Feb 22, 2023
Zawyeh Gallery
Dubai, UAE

Utilities seeks to excavate and document the multilayers of Beirut’s economic collapse and employs an ethnographic lens to explore the material manifestations of the crisis across the city’s urban fabric. The project unearths the material infrastructural apparatus that is emerging as a response to socioeconomic conditions; solar panels, water tanks, private generators, and prison-like façades of banks are all elementary fragments of this apparatus.

“[…] Artifacts, things, etc., actively shape, impact and transform the perception – and consequently understanding – human beings have of the world in which they dwell” (Kirchhoff, 2009). The artist thus seeks to excavate the built environment and record, through his lens, the many artifacts of Lebanon’s economic crisis. The orthodox definition of an artifact entails a man-made object that reveals a way of life in a specific space at a specific point in time. According to this view, the economic crisis in Beirut would be attached, inscribed, or embodied in objects like solar panels. Utilities captures and isolates these contemporary artifacts, not for the sake of decontextualization, but to consider these utilities as more than simply a representation or manifestation. The artist explores how these artifacts themselves are the economic crisis, blurring the lines between the signifier and the signified.

Already immersed in Beirut’s social and urban landscape as an inhabitant and artist, Mrad’s work can be classified as an ‘ethnography at home’ that pushes us to think through objects. Ethnographic fieldwork not only requires its practitioners to engage with people but also with their things. The artist’s practice advances this idea further by focusing on the material urban landscape as a site of socio-political and economic phenomena.