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Lara Baladi

Egypt

Born in Beirut, Baladi was educated in Paris and London, and currently lives in Cairo. Much of the Egyptian-Lebanese artist’s work considers how various media – including photography, video, and radio – are inseparable from the trajectory of political developments in the Arab world, with a specific focus on Egypt.

Baladi’s early work spans a wide range of media, from prints, photographs, and collages to tapestries and perfume. Her work also considers how new media is mobilised as both a documentary and artistic form through her practice-based research. Alongside her work as an artist, she is a curator, coordinates artist residencies, and was a founding member of the Arab Image Foundation.

Lara Baladi,in collaboration with Eric Busch, Don’t Be Too Candid, 2018, site specific multimedia installation. Image from Tahrirarchives.com

In 2011, following the Tahrir Square protests in Cairo, Baladi became the Cultural/Artistic Curator and Outreach Coordinator for Radio Tahrir and also co-founded Tahrir Cinema, which screened short documentaries, YouTube clips, and other recorded images from the initial moments of the Egyptian revolution.

Lara Baladi, Rose, 2010, digital collage and archival print on gesso, image from EdgeofArabia.com

In a 2012 interview with Afterimage, Lara Baladi states of her work:

The particularity of my work is that it is multi-layered. It often merges reality and fiction, the personal and the socio-political, the sacred and profane. “Reality” as we experience it is different for each of us. What reality resonates with, provokes inside of us, how it fits in the bigger picture, nationally and internationally, socially and spiritually, in our personal history and in History with a capital H, is what I am interested in showing in my work. Reflecting on the subtle changes the revolution has triggered on a personal level, but also on a social and political level, and on the changes that still need to happen within us and around us for our society to really evolve, is the next challenge.

Baladi’s approach reminds viewers of the necessity to investigate both broadly and thoroughly, and her politically engaged research combines the discipline of investigative journalism with a keen eye for finding appropriate modes of presentation that appeal, both intellectually and emotionally, to a wide public.

Protestor at Tahir Square, 2011, image from MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology

Lara Baladi in collaboration with Salma Elbalouty, Be Realistic, Ask for the Impossible, 2017, multimedia installation, image from affective-societies.de

From 2014-15, she was a Fellow at the MIT Open Documentary Lab where she conducted research for her project Vox Populi: Archiving a Revolution in the Digital Age. The project emerged from her participation in the Tahrir Square protests, during and after which she documented and archived videos, photographs, and personal accounts. To contextualise these events, Baladi also archived documentation of events around the world at the same time, and collected her findings online in the Tahrir Archives, as well as on Filming Revolution– a platform that reflects back on the process of cataloging itself.

Baladi’s sustained fixation with Tahrir Square has been fruitful, with work that oscillates between participatory, collaborative and solo modalities. While her 2018 piece Don’t Be Candid warily recounts this frenetic transfer of power from the state to the people and back again, its methods of ‘performing’ the Vox Populiarchive echo 2011’s radical heyday. Baladi recognises the fungibility of historical narratives, and by ensuring the archive’s vitality, Egyptians have a stake in how these moments will continue to be perceived: digital media’s emancipatory uses might not have failed entirely.

By Noor Tausif, and with thanks to James Elsey

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