Lebanese authorities suspend Ashkal Alwan founder-director Christine Tohme’s passport

The good, the bad and the inevitable

In November 2015, I was lucky enough to be invited to Home Works, an arts forum at the Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts (Ashkal Alwan) in Beirut, Lebanon. Ali Cherri and I discussed matters from the invention of ruins to the end of the national museum.

There was a good talk by Ali Cherri (on understandings of and interrelations between archaeology and art), a bad talk by me and an inevitable question from a Greek Cypriot(?). If you watch the off-microphone switch between Ali and me, you can see us chatting. At one of the points where we were laughing, I was saying how nice it was to be somewhere I wouldn’t offend anyone.

(Ali also showed the Digger, which had just shared the NEW:VISION award at CPH:DOX.)

Home Works

Home Works was a great experience. Everyone at Ashkal Alwan was really friendly and sensitive. There were so many interesting events that, when I stayed on in Beirut, I trekked across the city to get to them (whereas I’d trek across the city to get away from many academic talks).

Many of the events are on YouTube in Arabic and English, including Khaled Malas’s talk on building hope: towards monuments of the everyday in Syria, though they don’t capture Marwan Rechmaoui’s art, which maps and deconstructs social divisions in Beirut.

Ashkal Alwan

So, it is particularly sad to hear that Ashkal Alwan’s founder-director Christine Tohmé’s passport has been suspended. Tohmé released a statement via Ashkal Alwan, where she explained that,

When I went back to get my passport [from the Directorate of General Security], I was informed that the renewal was suspended, due to a warrant issued against me [which had been dismissed and cancelled in 2014].

I have no doubt that this warrant is directly linked to the domain of my work, as a director of the Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts, Ashkal Alwan.

Indeed, she was told as much.

As such, the significance of this action against me cannot be understated, as it affects the domain of other civic workers, as well as mine personally.

Using warrants illegally for obstruction of administrative procedures, such as passports renewal, strips people of their right to mobility and travel. This is an illegal penalty issued by an administrative authority, not a judiciary one.

Tohmé told Hyperallergic that she did not know the charge, but a responsible official had said that

it was obviously related to my work and what I do in my practice…. Often we don’t hear about it but many people have undergone the same thing….

This was an arbitrary decision to terrorize people and to tell them we know what you’re doing and we’re observing you…. look what is happening with academics in Turkey.

There, academics have been threatened by an Islamist nationalist organised crime boss, threatened by the nationalist Islamist government and detained by the state for petitioning for peace between Turkish armed forces and Kurdish paramilitaries.

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