Nov 17, 2016Jan 7, 2017 · Galerie Tanit, Beyrouth

Randa Mirza

El Zohra was not born in a day

In collaboration with Riccardo Clementi and Eric Deniaud 


Al-Jahiliyyah is a historical period that preluded the revelation of monotheistic Islam. In its philosophical sense, it describes a state of ignorance and darkness. This period and its rich cultural polytheistic heritage has been actively censored and remains, up until today, overlooked, underreported, and widely ignored. Later on, orientalist interpretations contributed to further conceal polytheist heterogeneity in the foundation of Islam’s storytelling. Recently, the “Islamic State” has undertaken the destruction of some of the few remains of that historical period, mainly archeological sites, temples and sculptures of Semitic gods.

El-Zohra was not born in a day delves into archeological Near-East artifacts, the stories of the old Muslim chroniclers, the Qur’an, classical Arabic literature and the vast realm of pre-Islamic poetry to unearth hidden mythological tales from Ancient Arabia. The works presented in this exhibition are sculptures and miniature multi-media dioramas, each recounting an ancient forgotten pre-Islamic myth.

These repressed myths reveal obscured, unrepresented, and yet still powerful aspects of Arab history and collective memory. Uncovering these myths offers a more in-depth and nuanced perspective on the Arab people, their culture and religions­. It involves an alternative storytelling that challenges the master narrative produced by successive systems of domination, religious or secular; thus challenging the dominant discourses that shape political identities by making visible the current symbolic constructions of religious and political storylines.

Using the diorama – literally “Through that which is seen”-, Randa Mirza questions the forms of representing and exhibiting narratives affected by aniconism, an interest expressed in previous photographic installations. Her research is a continuity of the use of the diorama, be it theatrical or didactic; an apparatus invented in the nineteenth century in France. The photographer refers also to the wonder box - Sandouk al ferjeh – used by the itinerant storytellers in the Mediterranean in the twentieth century. By coupling pre-cinematic aesthetics and different forms of expression such as photography, video, performing arts and sculpture, this project questions the time of the gaze; its poetry, its economy and its critique.