“TS_04” by Rhea Karam

Rhea Karam

“TS_04”, 2015, Photograph, © Rhea Karam

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Narrative Displacement

Commentary by

The lives of the ancient Jews had been characterised by uncertainty. To this end, Solomon’s construction of the temple was both a building up, towards the heavens, and also a laying down of roots, for a people.

In fact, the temple would offer only a fragile and temporary security, witnessing repeated capture, plunder, destruction, and rebuilding. And yet despite—or perhaps because of—this, the temple narrative continues to occupy an important place in modern Jewish imaginations and identities.

The work TS_04 forms part of Rhea Karam’s 2015 series Déraciné (Uprooted). The Lebanese-born artist, who now lives in Brooklyn, photographed trees in New York’s Central Park, printed and painted the images, and transported them to Lebanon, where she ‘replanted’ them onto public walls in Beirut.

Once in Beirut, Karam ‘drove and walked around scouting for locations’, stopping ‘to paste once I found a wall that piqued my interest’ (Sharp 2017). Whilst Karam controlled the first part of the process from her New York studio, she has said of the uncertainty regarding replanting her trees on the streets of Beirut:

I did not know where they would end up exactly, but prepared them for their destination—similar to how we integrate into a new environment when we move countries, knowing where we are going but having a lot of uncertainty as to where, and if, we will fit in. (ibid)

Karam’s photographic uprooting and transplanting of New York oaks onto Lebanese walls inversely echoes Solomon’s sourcing of the timber for the temple in Jerusalem—‘cedar, cypress, and algum’—from Lebanon (2 Chronicles 2:8).

There are references to Lebanese cedar throughout the Hebrew Bible (e.g. Psalm 92:12; Ezekiel 31:3). Today the cedar tree appears on Lebanon’s flag and currency, a unifying emblem of a country whose sixteen-year civil war pitted various Christian military and political groups against the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Left-leaning Muslim political parties. The scars of the conflict can be seen on the walls onto which Karam pastes her trees

Meanwhile, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, claimed by both Judaism and Islam, remains a focal point of the Arab–Israeli conflict. The temple which Solomon built to root one displaced people in ancient times has, in more recent history, been invoked in the displacement of another.

 

References

Karam, Rhea. 2018. ‘Déraciné’, available at http://www.rheakaram.com/dracin [accessed 3 March 2020]

Sharp, Sarah Rose. 2017. ‘A Show of Lebanese Art Suffused with the Longing of Exile, 2 May 2017’, www.Hyperallergic.com, [accessed 11 March 2020]


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