reflections on grief and belonging

Hi everyone!

I’m honored to be the Museum’s April 2021 artist-in-residence, and while I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to go to Dearborn for my residency, I’m glad I get to walk you through the process of what I’m up to and what I’ve been doing so far.

I’m working on my forthcoming book titled The Sun That Stood Still. In my proposal to the museum, I wrote:

The Sun That Stood Still is an artist book that examines a shifting relationship to a shifting landscape. The book’s title is a reference to the winter solstice, the time at which Lara Atallah flew back to Beirut, Lebanon in 2019 to her recently deceased grandmother’s house. The book is about her grandmother, but also about loss, the Mediterranean, and living in a perpetual state of uprootedness while paradoxically finding grounding by the sea. Bringing together archival photographs and images made during yearly visits to Lebanon, the visuals are held together by a text that weaves a letter that is part ode, part elegy to a place that is perpetually disintegrating.

At a loss as to how to delve into a topic that is both dear and difficult to confront, I spent my first week feeling both scattered and overwhelmed. I had a word document that largely consisted of word vomit and mountains of scanned photographs that I often had to look away from.

By week two, having gotten nowhere I took a couple of steps back, and began reflecting on my title.

The Sun That Stood Still is a reference to the solstice. The idea to do a whole project about it initially came from an entry I wrote for my personal substack towards the end of 2020. I realized I had to let the sun guide me. I scoured my image folders and picked the ones you see below as my guide posts.

My grandmother’s house plays a big role in this project. As such, my guideposts needed to highlight the sun both indoors and in the surrounding outdoor area of the house. Once I had set these images, it became a little bit easier to craft a text that would complement them.

The text is structured as a letter. I was inspired by Ocean Vuong’s On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous to create a book that is both personal and intimate but also touches on larger historical and political themes that others could reflect on. Below, a couple of excerpts of what I was able to come up with.

I learned that when grief envelops you in its heavy frame, it is best to surrender. Sometimes, it means that my brain goes quiet— all thoughts drying out like a pond in a drought. As though, my mind has gone on strike, refusing to remember for fear of getting trapped in a defunct timeline. I made my way back to the house on the winter solstice and all I could do is grab as many photographs as I could find. I slouched from room to room searching for you [..]

As the letter progressed I began branching out, reflecting on larger topics others could relate to.

You showed me that the lines separating Beirut from Damascus and Safad are figments of a colonial imaginary we’ve commanded our bodies to recognize as truth. Our bloodline is a patchwork of Levantine DNA and sprinkles of colonizer blood. Our land is a corpse on imperialism’s autopsy table. And we, its people, carry on our shoulders trauma that travels with us to global capitals where we shape-shift into new selves, hoping to be palatable enough to the same people who’ve had a direct hand in exiling us.

Now that I’ve picked up the pace, I seem to be on a steadier roll. Stay tuned for layout updates!

Yours,

Lara