Once Removed

This audiovisual installation acts as a portrait of the time travelling life and work of Bassel Abi Chahine. A 30 year old writer and historian who has managed to obtain the most comprehensive inventory of extremely rare objects, photographs and interviews of the PLA and PSP socialist militia led by Walid Joumblatt during the Lebanese civil war. He amassed this archive and taught himself how to read and identify all manner of military equipment including every pattern of camouflage and the origin of every AK 47, be it Bulgarian, Polish, Soviet, Chinese in each of his images. All this obsessive analysis and unprecedented research into this one militia was done in pursuit of material that could reconstitute what he describes as flashbacks and unexplainable memories from a previous life. Through his research Abi Chahine realised that the lucid and personal memories of the war that he had lived with his whole life, were due to the fact that he was the reincarnation of a soldier Yousef Fouad Al Jawhary, who died when he was 16 in February 26 1984 in the town of Aley. Since the end of the war it was deemed necessary for the national interest to suppress specific details pertaining to sectarian conflicts in order not to incite further tensions between the formerly warring parties. This has meant that Bassel’s generation grew up with rumours and tales and hints not to ask too many questions. Yet former soldiers and commanders of the PSP felt at ease to break this rule and imparted to Abi Chahine information, personal photographs, and artefacts because they believe him to be the reincarnation of one of their former comrades. His reincarnation and his research are inseparable. Yet for Bassel it is not his intention to expose the silenced events that he has uncovered about what happened during the war, but rather to seek material and tangible traces that it happened at all, and most of all, despite not being alive at the time, that it happened to him. 

Once Removed was commissioned for Sharjah Biennial 14 curated by Omar Kholief