Gardens Speak

April 7, 2016–April 12, 2016

Gardens Speak, a temporary installation by Lebanese-born, London-based artist Tania El Khoury, gives voice to Syrians who died between 2011 and 2013 in the Syrian conflict, allowing them to speak to audiences from beyond the grave.

The installation features the oral histories of 10 ordinary individuals who died during the conflict and have been buried—not in public cemeteries but in the gardens of Syrian homes. It offers a ritualistic and immersive experience to audiences who, in small groups of up to 10 people, are directed to a representation of a grave to dig through the soil where they uncover an audio file. Curled up next to a headstone, with their heads on cushions, they listen to the oral histories of victims of the Syrian conflict.

Gardens Speak challenges visitors to consider the role of the built environment in conflict zones beyond that of shelter. When buildings, landscapes, and shared public spaces are affected by conflict, there can be a devastating impact not only on all areas of human life, but also on the important communal rituals associated with burial.

Gardens Speak and the accompanying programs are organized by the Middle East Institute in collaboration with the National Building Museum, with a generous grant from the British Council.

About the Artist

Tania El Khoury is an artist working in London and Beirut. She creates interactive performance art that includes the audience as an active collaborator. Her work challenges Western perceptions about the Middle East, with a particular focus on women’s issues. She has performed and staged interactive installations in a variety of spaces, including the British Museum, the Mediterranean seashore, a cable car, a shipping container, and an old church in Beirut that was used as a military base during the civil war.

El Khoury’s solo work has toured internationally, and her productions have been presented at Artsadmin, the Next Wave Festival, the Fierce Festival, the Battersea Arts Centre, ICA, Bluecoat, the Watermill Art Centre, Tanzquartier Wien, and City of Women, among others. She is a co-founder of Dictaphone Group, a Lebanese research and performance collective in Beirut that aims to question participants’ relationship to the city and redefine its public space. El Khoury has received the Total Theatre Innovation Award and the Arches Brick Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Gardens Speak reflects her increasing interest in oral histories.