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August 2006
 

 

 

My Lover in Unequal Parts: A Found Photo Project
By Rheim Alkadhi

   
My lover stayed in Lebanon, on the sixth floor of an apartment building with magnificent red theatre curtains shading the balcony. Since this is the only building left standing (the others collapsed in a giant heap), I imagine my lover was able to circumvent the bombing by drawing the curtains shut.
   
In the trauma wing of a hospital outside Fallujah, someone motions in the direction of a 4-year old girl who is seated against a patterned cushion. I am asked to help document the gunshot wounds to the child’s left shoulder. Her parents and three siblings were killed when American soldiers sprayed bullets at the car as the family tried to flee.
   
I think to ask about my lover’s whereabouts in a refugee camp. I go to a temporary set-up on the grounds of an elementary school in Amriya, my old neighborhood. I peer into some of the different UN relief tents. I even interrupt a makeshift grammar class. One student offers that, yes, she had seen my lover in the past perfect tense.
   
In the cramped hallway of one of the only clinics still administering medicines, I look at the faces that war has despoiled. How many of them look for the relief that follows the moment when lost lovers are recovered?
   
A little further down the road, the strange pain of seeing some mismatched shoes. Why does the mundane anthropomorphize under strain? I know only absurdity; that I would like to take a shoe in my arms, cradle its lost brokenness, wishing well the fate of the foot that wore it.
   
I stand in the street while a procession of blue-masked pallbearers comes into view. I look into the eyes of one: I wonder if my lover rests in one of the hastily constructed wooden boxes -- death shouldered to the grave on this odious day of days?
   
My lover’s plastic slippers next to the bed: I sink to the floor and see the edges of the sheets worn and dusty. Outside my window is the immeasurable cacophony. Inside, the emptiness is no easier to contain. I sink a bit further until my eyes perceive a horizon line of green and white checkerboard flooring.
   
My dear enemy, you are not a wild dog; you are a military dog. You are harnessed, leashed, trained, commanded. I want to nuzzle you, feed you, kiss you, to love you until you love me back. And then I shall require directions for tracking the scent of my lover.
   
I am waiting to see my lover amid the waves of civilians walking along the silver edged shore in Gaza. They tell me the main road has been closed by the military without explanation and they must travel this route instead. None of them has seen my lover.
   
The dominant market approves yea or nay the value of an Arab’s project (looking for her lover). A sudden explosion, the weight of flying parts and pieces, the tending to wounds and shouldering of the dead: there is no market.
   
But a market of desperation arises amid a brutal occupation. A painted woman is there, in the south of Baghdad. She adjusts her hair, glances past me, and clicks her tongue at the empty streets.
   
I am offered the use of a bicycle to pursue the whereabouts of my lover. I accept, then fast clip a photo to its frame, which sounds against the turning spokes as I speed ahead, making unison with the heartbeat of some bird somewhere.
   
Through a keyhole I see where my lover should be standing: next to the young girl in the headscarf, before the boy in the striped shirt. All of them wait for the next departing boat, for a bit of food, or for the promise of cease-fire.
   
Sand flecks dart against my face. The breeze is cool, kinetic, heavy, and my bitten tongue feels salt-cured. Alone on the beach, listing to thundering bombs, I am wooden, marooned, knowing the threat of landlock. Still, in this moment I have a small window to the sea.
   
Archaeology and exhumation in Adhamiyah: I begin collecting bits of trash in an worn plastic bag I find buried along the wall near my grandmother’s house. I recover pieces of concrete, rocks, wrappers, rinds, rancid food. A dead bird.
   
Among the things my lover left behind: the remains of the childhood home after air strikes, and palm fronds exploding over the top of the only wall left standing. The sky should be held accountable, but it is impotent, regularly bending to blind destruction.
   
In one UN shelter I see someone’s belongings stacked carefully: a sleeping mat, a plastic basket holding a blanket and clothing, a radio, a bottle of water, and a bag. Inside the bag I can only imagine a pen, paper, stamps, and the boldest intentions of an ardent love-letterer.
     

Rheim Alkadhi is an interdisciplinary artist. Currently, her work can be seen at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), featuring a civilian hair repository that indexes 1200 deaths from two weeks of air raids in Iraq. She lives in Los Angeles.

For more information visit: http://www.birwaz.org/alkadhi.htm