COLUMBUS, Ohio — In our photo-happy culture, it’s easy to take for granted the power of documentation. People from places where political instability and violent conflict undermine the flow of daily life — from raising families in safety to snapping the occasional vacuous selfie — often find themselves exiled, not only from their physical homelands, but from their communities and historical records. This is perhaps the reason that so much of the work in Action at a Distance, a show at Angela Meleca Gallery featuring five contemporary Lebanese artists, skews heavily towards film and photography. Meleca is of Lebanese descent herself, and the exhibition in part reflects her personal stake in raising awareness of the human cost of Lebanon’s mercurial social and political situation — beginning with the Lebanese Civil War, which besieged the country from 1975 until 1990, and on to the Cedar Revolution and other upheavals that have followed since. From such a violent history emerges a quiet and meditative group show, offering a sense of displaced individuals struggling to reconstruct their histories of a place.
“I am from both cultures, and I relate to both cultures equally,” said Lebanese American photographer Raina Matar in an email interview. “I feel that my two worlds are now more divided than ever, even though at the core, they are not that different.” Matar moved to the United States in 1984, but has long made visits back to Lebanon; in 2014, she began work on her Invisible Children series. These portraits feature young people she encounters in her walks around Beirut, among them Syrian refugees and third-generation Palestinian children in the Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp. Her beautifully rendered photographs raise questions about belonging and what it means to be a refugee; the latter is typically thought of as a transitional state, but as her pictures document, refugee life can stretch on through generations. Are these newly arrived Syrian children the refugees? Are the Palestinian children who were born in Beirut? Is Matar, a US resident of more than 30 years, still a refugee as well?