RASHA KAHIL: EXPRESSIVE, TRANSGRESSIVE, OR SCANDALOUS?
By Maha Alsharif
Rasha Kahil, "Potterells Farmhouse, AL9, Hertfordshire", 2011, Photography. © Rasha Kahil.
While browsing for art on the internet, we came across the work of Lebanese photographer, Rasha Kahil. Although her work appears normal in comparison to other content on the web, it is perceived shocking in the art world, and outrageous in the media and public sphere.
The London-based artist is an experimental and conceptual photographer, who uses the body to explore the boundaries of socially accepted behaviours and aesthetics. Through photographic documentation, she brings attention to social performances. That is, the role we play when we are alone, the role we play in the presence of company, and the reactions they trigger once exposed.
Installation view: Rasha Kahil, "Anatomy Of A Scandal", 2016. © Rasha Kahil.
In “In Your Home” (2011), Kahil presents a series of secretly taken, indecent self-portraits in other peoples’ homes. Evident by some awkward poses, natural lighting, and random compositions, Kahil seems aware of the peculiar act, and so has to be quick to set up her camera and snap the pictures. It indicates she is aware her host’s reaction would have surely been less than pleased. Therefore her intention goes beyond that of an exhibitionist’s fantasy. She employs her body as a performative medium, appropriated to assault the rationales of privacy and trust. On the one hand, she disassociates society-inflicted shame by exposing herself, both in an outsider’s domestic space and in the public sphere. While on the other, she blatantly breaks built trust, between her and her hosts and between her and the public.
Georges Bataille wrote, the threats associated with transgressive art are directed at the audience, in which the viewer is meant to be affected by the violation of taboo symbolised by or enacted by the work. Kahil’s work is not meant to exist in isolation of the social realm; it is only complete with a reaction from the audience. Similarly, privacy and trust are earned qualities and they vary from one instance (or relationship) to the other. While the artist does bring awareness to critical subjects, that are becoming more and more problematic in the age of the internet, her methods are ethically questionable. In the sense, that she presents a documented account of her, technically legal, violations.
Rasha Kahil, "Anatomy Of A Scandal", 2016. © Rasha Kahil.
In 2013, Al Jadeed Channel picked up Kahil’s project, and featured it on their Trending Programme, stirring up a scandal outside the safety of the art world. As seen in Kahil’s follow up exhibition “Anatomy Of A Scandal” (2016), the initial presentation was culturally biased, as the original works were defaced by censoring sensitive or inappropriate visuals. As the subject of public debate, the artist loses control of the truth behind her point of view and art practice. Kahil documents and credits the vilifying, judgemental, supportive, and meaningless online comments. In a multi-media installation, she takes the liberty to expose the people behind the opinions, possibly to suggest their privacy is not fully under their command either.
Whether considered expressive on behalf of the artist, transgressive under the umbrella of contemporary art, or scandalous by the media, the shock delivered by her work is meant to be interpreted on multiple levels. Kahil's social experiment tests the limits of morality and looks for a constructive dialogue to reassess social values regarding privacy, the body, trust, and artistic expression. Therefore it is not a one sided argument of right or wrong about her unusual performance, but rather an opportunity to reflect upon the aforementioned elements.
*All images and media were sourced from rashakahil.com