Artist and Urbanist Saba Innab's Art and Architecture

Date: February,28 2011
Location: Beirut

Adolf Natalini wrote in 1971 "... if design is merely an inducement to consume, then we must reject design; if architecture is merely the codifying of the bourgeois model of ownership and society, then we must reject architecture; if architecture and town planning is merely the formalization of present unjust social divisions, then we must reject town planning and its cities...until all design activities are aimed towards meeting primary needs. Until then, design must disappear. We can live without architecture..."

Saba Innab began with her favourite quote on urban regeneration in relation to design and architecture. For a long time, Innab has contemplated on how cities grow and the invisible process of building through cartographies. "This urban planning can be a destructive process creating urban monsters and yet when I walk through a city, I can still feel how organic buildings are, despite how heavy architecture is in the extent to which it demarcates and determines people's lives and how they move in space." As an urbanist, she recognizes the need to "redeem the use of more socially conscious building that does not erase the form of architectural design. And yet cities do not only grow and develop, they also dislocate. Planning cities can therefore be a very violent practice."

Innab described her fascination with the contradictions inherent in the cities of the region, which represent "plateaus for consumption trying to outlive political changes." Her urban research mostly relates to mapping and she first conducted some studies on the public/private space that is Amman, calling it the "rural city, or refuge city. Nothing happens there and yet since it is a locus for Palestinian refugees mostly, this affects its urban morphology in being an emergency city, a temporal space that is not lived enough, and hence its introverted-ness."

Her first experience in Beirut was for 6 months in August 2009, where she worked on Naher el Bared with UNRWA. "My art products are derivatives of my training. I have always been fascinated with space as a social product, with power in place and buildings in an urban context. Working with architecture was a means or a tool to better understand cities and I was largely influenced by the situationist movement of the 60's and the revolutionary forms that brought about, as well as utopian architecture." Rebuilding Naher el Bared for Saba Innab was such a revolutionary project that was meant to empower. "What makes a camp different from any other habitat, is the issue of land ownership" and this concept was what inspired her current exhibition, 'No Sheep's Land, ' (see images on: "How do you building without a land?" remains her main provocation." For me, painting and installation have always come in parallel with my urbanist practices, such as mapping." Two elements you will always find in her studio are not canvas, for sometimes Innab works with tracing paper or even draws on walls, but rather, ink and a ruler.

Until today Saba Innab does not feel as if she has really had a chance to fully experience Beirut and as her latest exhibition reveals, she has managed to capture a bird's eye view to the guts of the urban fabric, in her depictions of the city's crumbling infrastructure, lopsided buildings or buildings rising vertically instead of horizontally, with the city infringing on nature, and a lot of empty, deserted space. These arid landscapes are of vast, endless land superimposed with the skeleton of a building structure. "All my drawings are based on real spaces and I don't intend to propose and architectural solution. On the contrary, the spaces I have painted are the opposite of urban."

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