On ‘Broadcast from Arabia’ by Mohamed Ghassan
Written by Kenza Jemmali. Published on 28 December 2021.
When I hear the word ‘archive’, I think of books, images, or artifacts. And yes, sounds can also be collected, archived, and reviewed. One of these examples is Mohamed Ghassan’s sound installation, entitled ‘Broadcast from Arabia’. This installation shares with us the personal ‘sonic archive’ of the artist. Mohamed studied at the School of Fine Arts in Baghdad (iq) and earned his master’s degree after his studies at the Higher Institute of Fine Arts in Tunis. Since 1998, he is living in Tunis and stayed even after he finished his studies. His archive takes up back to his time in Baghdad and his early days in Tunis.
The artwork ‘Broadcast from Arabia’ comes in form of an installation. A vintage radio is placed on an antique table. Next to it, a chair that is waiting for someone to sit down. From its soft yet rough brown colored wood structure to the golden buttons, each part of it feels like it’s telling a part of the story of the past. The installation is embedded in a soundscape consisting of music, technical sounds, and field recordings. It takes a moment to perceive where the noises are coming from. I can identify a fragment of one of the iconic Om Kalthoum’s songs. Om Kalthoum’s magnificent voice cuts through the sound environment and reaches out for my attention. Slowly it is fading into a sound collage of different voices, sounds of bombings, and various noises. Words like ‘war’, ‘death’, and ‘fight’ reoccur in the installation’s recording, leaving me confused, disoriented, and uncomfortable.
Later, I learn that the speech fragments are excerpts from battle statements. It starts with sound clips from various broadcasts of military statements from the Six-Day war of 1967, the 1980 Iraq-Iran war, and back again to 1967 with Abdel Nasser’s speech. Then we are sonically transported to 2003 with George Bush’s speech, and we go back again to 1990 with Saddam Hussein’s speech. This sonic journey ends in 2011 in Tunisia with a broadcast talking about illegal immigration. All these sounds are part of Mohamed’s memories. He still vividly recalls the reporters’ faces, clothing, and manners of telling the news to the people and remembers how it impacted his perspective.
Throughout his oeuvre, the artist works with mono-color sculptures and installations, often characterized by a single human figure deformed by the impact of war. In this case, the human figure is replaced by the radio.
The installation and the sonic collage ignite my imagination. What would my sound collage be? Mohamed was raised with trust in nationalist values and a strong belief in Pan-Arabism. He recalls being surrounded by images of leaders such as Gamal Abdel Nasser and Saddam Hussein. These beliefs are part of his heritage that he wished to review again and again to understand the impact on his identity. I understand that research, selection, and composition that are part of the artistic research as much as the repeated repetition to detect the echoes of the soundtracks of his life.
Just as it begins, the sound installation ends with Om Kalthoum singing from ‘El Amal’ which translates to ‘hope’. Could this be interpreted as the artist’s way of wrapping up these archives in a soft image of hope? Or a way of starting and ending the few rough minutes of remembrance with a soothing note? Or is it the juxtaposition of the sweetness and the harshness that sharpens the sonic description? For me, the artwork made me experience the idea of the “sound of a time” which is about content, but about persons and their voices as well, the way technology sounds, and the combination of sounds that make a soundscape that portrays a time.
facebook.com: Mohamed Ghassan
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