Mathaf Mathaf / Chou Hayda

Public Art Commissions

November 2018

Beirut, Lebanon

In November of 2017, people from across Beirut came to the National Museum and gave their voices to a number of objects in the collection. The people spoke to and for and about these objects from the past, and, in doing so, they revealed fragments of the present. They did not attempt to disclose a particular historical narrative. Nor did they attempt to create a fiction. They did not lie and they did not try to tell the truth.

Grounded in the participatory approach to art making, Mathaf Mathaf / Chou Hayda explores the ways in which the art object or artifact is imbued with social, political, moral, and personal meaning as it is received across time and within shifting cultural contexts. This audio guide is a culled experience of the present moment at the museum, facing these archeological objects with a contemporary view, bringing them into our lives now, and leaving a piece of our lives within their story.

For the making of the audio guide, artist Annabel Daou invited several groups of people to take part in accompanied visits to the National Museum of Beirut during which they were asked a series of questions, prompting them to reimagine the histories and purposes of objects in the collection. This collaboration captures language from the various participants’ responses and reworks them into a script that has been partly recorded by professional Lebanese actors (Julia Kassar and Georges Khabbaz) whose performed voices enable the institutional authority in the audio guide, while the smart, funny, and wildly historically inaccurate responses of the participants subvert it. It also playfully challenges the authority of official history; inviting imagination, speculation, and misunderstanding.

This commission positions the museum as a space that includes not only the voices of the artists, artisans, curators and historians but of the visitors who view and experience the collection in the present. Listen to the voices of the people of Beirut.

Mathaf Mathaf / Chou Hayda is an audio guide project by Annabel Daou and the people of Beirut, with the voices of Julia Kassar and Georges Khabbaz. The project was commissioned by BeMA in collaboration with TAP and with the partnership of the Directorate General of Antiquities and the National Museum of Beirut.


Panel: Museum Objects as Subjects: Interpretative Methods and Art Practice (24 May 24, 2018, Beit Beirut)

The panel explored ways in which museum collections can be used to activate alternative narratives commenting on our present time by means of interpretative methods, participatory commissions or artistic inquiries. How can we look at archeological / ethnographic artifacts outside the realm of the institutional and curatorial narratives they are framed within? How can these objects instigate other ways of seeing and listening inside and outside the museum? Annabel Daou, Ali Cherri, Avani Tanya, and Eric de Visscher presented responses based on their own work and research followed by a conversation moderated by art critic David Markus. Listen to the panel discussion.

Sounding the museum: A shared reflection on the Chou Hayda intervention at the National Museum of Beirut
Published in Curator: the Museum Journal | July 2019 Special Issue Volume 62 Number 3 “Sonic”

The essay addresses the project from the vantages of three voices involved in its creation: curator Amanda Abi Khalil, artist Annabel Daou, and composer Nadim Mishlawi. Each of the three responses address different aspects of the work’s artistic, political, curatorial, and museological implications. Read the full essay.