17 Dec Portrait of a Birdman (By Christiane Waked)
Lost between his inner liberation and hesitant in the face of the multiplicity of the choices and the paths, the Birdman is a torn creature, extremely lonely and his metamorphosis is more of a slow death experience.
The Birdman is dying, everything around him reminds him of that. He feels hopeless, as he is struggling not to go astray.
Inflicted by what Socrates describes as “the itching of the wings”, the Birdman is always on the move in the search of a home.
Semaan Khawam aka Birdman welcomes me as usual with a warm hug and starts to explain what his latest exhibition at Agial is all about.
Everywhere I look, sculptures of birdmen, in black and white as if they were the yin and the yang. These sculptures are made from Semaan’s own recycled garbage and they reveal the abysmal of the artist’s solitude.
Semaan is the dark side of the Birdman, the latter is that final straw of hope, the one that can by a spread of a wing break all kind of frontiers and barriers.
He starts with the sculpture that he baptized Icarus. A bird is trying to lift a man and saves him from falling maybe from depression. In the Greek mythology, Icarus is the Son of Daedalus who dared to fly too near the sun on wings of feathers and wax.
Semaan’s quest for the truth is his own death sentence as he wanders from painting to sculpture, from his studio to the showrooms trying to exorcise his demons.
I ask him about one sculpture in particular, one that shows a man eating a bird. He tells me it represents the society that is swallowing any hope.
The society is now a huge mold of corruption, pollution, greedy system, consumerism, individualism and the whole coma situation that the civilians have numbed themselves into. I feel Birdman has burdened himself with the whole weight of the world.
I start to look for any hope in his sculptures and luckily, I find one in a sculpture named ”if you want me, you can find me in the garden”.
He smiled as he guessed my thoughts and said:” Even from garbage, you can grow a garden”.
Adding : “Birds are here as a reminder to do our job and if one person came to my exhibition and started to recycle then my message has been understood”.
I ask him what does the bird tell him most of the time. He pokes me on my head as if he is imitating him and he murmurs sometimes he eats from my head as to wake me up and sometimes he is protecting me”.
I take a long look at him and think to myself that damn bird is not doing his job well as a protector.
He looks at me nervously and say:” we need a collective consciousness in Lebanon that will give birth to a healthy hierarchy who will impose laws that protect the environment etc.”
I interrupt him:” Maybe Semaan Khawam is the wake up call of the Lebanese society?”. He changes the subject as to avoid any awkward twist on this subject fearing that my sentence could have any sarcasm . He starts to explain that while doing his sculptures, some of them were inspired from his own paintings while others were thought on the spot depending on how edgy and rough his recycled garbage were.
As we finish our tour , I ask him while putting my hand on his shoulder:” Will this Birdman ever find a nest, a home?”
He laughs and replies :” My nest will be my grave”
Christiane Waked is a columnist, Risk and political analyst, Arts & Culture contributor. She is the former Press Attaché of the French Embassy to the UAE and former analyst and linguist of the French Interior Ministry.