The Determined Allegory

Take two worlds that are completely different from one another, the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and the wars that are tearing apart the Middle East, and look for possible connections between the two. Seemingly there are none. But Sara Badr Schmidt is an artist who forms connections where the common mortal only sees walls and borders. Very affected by the wars in Lebanon which tore apart her childhood, she is even more so disturbed to see the phantom of such conflicts catch up to Europe and burden our streets with a terrifying threat. It is the child in her and the mother of two children that inspired this installation. In choosing the Princess and the pea, her impact is twofold: she evokes a wonderful story and distorts it to feed into our fears of today. For the little girl perched on a pile of mattresses is lying beneath a bombshell green like a pea that lies on the bed frame. The mattress, symbol of a refugee or a homeless person – in the absence of a roof, you need to at least have something to lie on, a meager means to protect oneself from the bombs coming from the sky or canons.

Nothing depicts the vulnerability of child more than the mannequin sitting up high threatened by a suspended lethal weapon When we no longer have a home, a dwelling to protect us from the madness of mankind, the only escape left is to look towards the sky. These five light boxes are photos of Beirut taken at the same time in five different neighborhoods in the city. Men kill each other even though they share the same planet, the same nature, the same climate. When the killings start and degenerate into a civil war, we need to begin by reminding ourselves of what is essential – what people have in common, their sense of belonging to the living world, to the elements. And the wonderful carpet that supports the mattresses, an essential feature in Lebanese homes, reflects the sky, the clouds, the cosmos like a mirror image. Here, blue is a soothing image of peace where the green of the cannonball embodies madness, hate and murder. War always comes to this blue sky in a little cloud, initially inoffensive and invisible, and darkens and then soon spits out its shrapnel. The ferments of division that Sara seems to remind us of, are initially minor then the seeds of hostility are sowed throughout all societies. This is why the term, “together” has become one of the most difficult words to understand in all languages.

This installation gives us a sense of profound peace and almost of serenity. The mattresses, the carpet prompt relaxation, especially with a little girl immersed in the deep sleep that only children know how to attain. But neither sleep or meditation are possible when threatened by war. Beneath our closed eyelids roams the phantom of mass murders, the madness of fanaticism, forced conversion, hostile communities ready to massacre their neighbors to calm their rage. Sara Badr Schmidt’s aesthetic choice here is paradoxical: she depicts violence with gentleness, the red of blood with the blue of the sky, the rain of bombshells with the flight of birds. She is not trying to contend with what so many other artists have done, piling up corpses, showing ruins, and photographing mutilated and injured bodies. She avoids bloody expressionism and adopts subdued symbolism. She recreates the war with an image of conceivable happiness. It is this intention that makes her work so powerful: the eye is at first unarmed. Believing that it is entering a world familiar to it, little by little the eye discovers realities hidden by this environment, and understands that the two can coexist peacefully together. Somewhat like the towns situated a few hundred meters from the war front and where life continues, unshakably, while fighters are cutting each other’s throats not far away. But this gentleness is all the more troublesome.

It does not calm us, it shows two worlds contaminated by the same virus of aversion and killing. We all become, through the magic of this representation, princesses on the pea, powerless and vulnerable faced with the crime that is approaching. And regardless of the height of the mattresses we pile up to protect us, death creeps in, atrocious, ready to strike its prey, insatiable and greedy.

Pascal Bruckner, philosopher and writer, June 2017