Zena el Khalil | Astarte’s Cosmic Symphony
The Fondazione Donnaregina per le arti contemporanee presents the exhibition created specifically for this occasion, Astarte’s Cosmic Symphony, by Lebanese artist Zena el Khalil, curated by Marina Guida and in collaboration with the Galleria Giorgio Persano and the Fondazione Merz of Turin. Zena el Khalil (London, 1976), artist, writer, sacred activist and instructor of Nāda Yoga, works with a variety of media including painting, installation and performance, dedicating her research to building a culture of peace through universal love, compassion, forgiveness and empathy. In her site-specific installations, the performative aspect derives from meditation techniques and rituals: combining family and collective memory, she guides healing ceremonies in spaces that have historically resisted trauma and violence, environmental disasters, massacres and torture. Over the past two years, Zena el Khalil has conducted artistic interventions in spaces that were once spiritual centres of adoration of the Mother Goddess: the Phoenician temple of Eshmun and Astarte in Lebanon, the cave of the Cumaean Sibyl in Italy, the Oracle of Delphi in Greece. She has also intervened in the abandoned house of her great grand aunt Jameeli Al Fakih and in the home of Ibrahim Shaker, devastated by the civil war, both of them in Aley, Lebanon. Inspired by the disciplines of Nāda Yoga, Cymatics and Quantum Physics, el Khalil explores the idea that the entire material world is composed of vibrations that give rise to form. Drawing on the suggestions from Pythagoras’s Musica Universalis and shamanic techniques, as well as from the meditation practice that the artist studies and applies in her performances, through sound she generates a shift of consciousness to experience Spanda – the subtle creative impulse of the Universe that manifests itself in the dynamism of the living form. The exhibition consists of a series of works on paper and canvas that are the result of the artist’s reflections on Sacred Geometry, starting from the geometric shape of the Merkaba – which according to Egyptian wisdom was a vehicle that can help the mind, body and spirit to gain access to and experience other planes of reality and life potential, derived from the geometric icon of the Flower of Life, whose origin is still unknown – as also the Platonic solids, described by the Greek philosopher in the Timaeus; and on the interrelations between vibrational energy and form. A second room hosts an immersive sound installation. A special live orchestra composed of living plants – to which electrodes are connected that transform the electrical impulses of plants into sound audible to the human ear – accompanies the public in the purity of the sound of Mother Nature, ensuring that visitors tune in to the natural rhythm of the Universe that is within and around the human body. The orchestra’s musical arrangement is based on the Solfeggio scale, an ancient 9-tone scale used in sacred music. The scale works with the numerical values of 3, 6 and 9, and is considered by musicologists to be particularly harmonious and positive for the mind and spirit, as it tunes the physical and etheric body into a perfect cosmic harmony. This type of sound emission allegedly has a transformational power, a concept on which the mystic Georges Ivanovič Gurdjieff focused in his theory of “Objective Music”. The tour ends with the screening of a video dedicated to the Cumaean Sibyl’s Cave. The artist believes that if humanity is able to connect to the vibrational energy of the cosmos through the use of sound, as foreseen by the practices of Nāda Yoga, then it could aspire to the attainment of a universal harmonic state and arrive at the idea suggested by the mystics of all ages that “All is One”.
The Astarte’s Cosmic Symphony project will be part of the programme of the BAM – Mediterranean Archipelago Biennale within the ÜberMauer exhibition, hosted in the Convento della Magione, one of the venues for the exhibition in the city, from 6 November to 8 December 2019.
Born in London on 27 April 1976, Zena el Khalil lives and works in Beirut. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the NYC School of Visual Arts, a Bachelor’s of Graphic Design from the American University of Beirut, a 200 RYT certificate in Nāda Yoga and +250 in Hatha Yoga from the Yoga Alliance. She has spoken at the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, held several TED talks and her memoir “Beirut, I Love You” has been translated into numerous languages throughout the world. Her blog during the Lebanon war in 2006 was followed and published by the BBC, CNN, the New York Times and the Guardian.
Zena el Khalil has exhibited in institutions and galleries such as the Mori Art Museum, in Japan; the Institute du Monde Arabe, Paris; the Boghossian Foundation, Brussels; the Royal College of Art, London; the National Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo; Galleria Giorgio Persano, Turin; the Barajeel Art Foundation, United Arab Emirates; the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, Berlin; White Box, Munich, and Fondazione Merz in Turin.
In 2012 el Khalil was selected to be a TED Fellow and was awarded a Senior Fellowship in 2018. In 2017 she created a multi-faceted national scale exhibition project for peace and reconciliation entitled “Sacred Catastrophe: Healing Lebanon”. In addition to the monographic exhibition curated by Beatrice Merz and Janine Maamari, a 40-day programme of events were animated in Beit Beirut, a former sniper’s nest and war-torn building now renovated into a museum symbolic of Lebanon’s troubled conflict. From this project emerged a publication called “Beirut. Day 41”, published by hopefulmonster press and the Merz Foundation.