Erasures in an Imagined Geography

Please join us for a presentation by visual artist and writer Leslie Hakim-Dowek, to be followed by a conversation with Griselda Pollock, Professor emerita of Social and Cultural Histories of Art.

In this presentation, I will focus on two bodies of work (both in progress), mainly the Erased series and to some extent, Lullen.

As my family history has been rooted in the Middle East for several centuries and more specifically in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, themes of conflict and fragmentation have often been prominent in my visual practice. This could be seen in the many mutations of Beirut (my birthplace) in the work The City that Exploded Slowly from pre-civil war to post-war amnesia, to a more recent series, Erased, which relates to small tentative steps to retain the memory of a life, that of my mother’s, within a dispersed history and a frenetic mediatised world.

Born into a Sephardi/Mizrahi family in Tiberias, Palestine, in 1925, my mother probably experienced 10 major conflicts, resulting in each generation having to re-translate themselves into a new land and culture. There is little awareness of the presence over 2000 years of Jewish communities across the Middle East who were displaced throughout the 20th century along with many other minorities such as the Christians, Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians.

Very few sites, archives or traces remain of these displaced communities, due to sustained processes of erasures. At the intersection of the personal and history, as inspired by Said’s notion of ‘struggle over geography’, the onus therefore falls onto individuals to create their own archives to maintain a sense of their histories and identities. Thus, my mother’s objects became markers of her timeline in a small attempt to resist erasure.

In Lullen, in the context of Thessaloniki this time, I further explore the notions of erasure and domicide through the spectral remains of a community that perished, in almost its entirety, during the Holocaust.

About Leslie Hakim-Dowek

Leslie Hakim-Dowek is a visual artist and writer of Lebanese origin based in London. The overarching leitmotivs of her research-based practice are war and the wilderness as stories of warfare and of our abuse of the environment both stem from man’s strive to own, control and exploit the wilderness. More specific focuses include issues of identity, memory and migration as well as our complex relationship with the natural environment. Her practice often combines photography, archival material and creative writing.

She is Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Portsmouth following many years of lecturing in Photography and Fine Art.

As part of the AHRC project Ottoman Pasts, Present Cities: Cosmopolitanism and Transcultural Memories research project, she was the visual advisor and helped to organise a conference and workshops at Birkbeck College, London. For the latter, she also curated the exhibition East and West: Visualising the Ottoman City which took place at the Peltz Gallery.

Her work has been featured in many publications and she has widely exhibited in the UK and abroad. Her work is included in many public and private collections including Manchester Art Gallery, Unilever and Cranford Collection.

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Evening Gloves in Pervenche Shade from Index of Objects / Erased Series. Photo © Leslie Hakim-Dowek 2023.