"The blood of the land, like bronze and lead, fills its holes;
its corpses dissolve of themselves like fat in the sun;
it’s men slain by the axe were protected by no helmet;
like a gazelle caught in a trap, they lay with their mouths in the dust…
Mothers and fathers who did not leave their houses were consumed by fire;
the children lying in their mothers’ laps were carried off like fish by the waters…
May this disaster be entirely destroyed!
May the door be closed on it, like the great city gate at night!”
Lament for the destruction of Ur – 2000 BC
The Golden Calf is still alive
What is this savage god we worship who destroys entire cities, who slaughters their inhabitants, who spreads random violence and sends millions of men on the road throughout the world ? What is this god but the god of bloodshed – the very one invoked by the playwright Yasmina Reza, “the only one that reigns unchallenged since the dawn of time”? And yet, in the Middle East, at the dawn of civilisation, it was the god of justice that was worshiped at first. Engraved on a high stele of black basalt from around 2000 BC, the totemic Code of Hammurabi gives birth to the code of law. At the very top of the monument, Hammurabi, the wise Babylonian king, reigning over all ancient Mesopotamia, puts himself under the protection of the Sun God ŠamaŠ (the Š is pronounced “sh” in Akkadian) from which derives the Arabic word شمس: šams that signifies sun. Just as light dispels darkness, ŠamaŠ sheds light on evil and puts an end to injustice.
Fiercely contemporary while remaining powerfully archaic, convinced that the memory of the West is rooted in that of the East, and haunted by the idea of connecting two shores with a single voice, Zad Moultaka wanted to discover who ŠamaŠ was today. While refusing to make a business of Lebanon’s war of wars (and Syria’s could well have been next in line), Moultaka makes use of the nightmares that torment us, and the fear of death coming from above like a constant rumour, a death knell, an explosive force, to produce a powerful work: a cry against barbarism and its trade. As a musician and visual artist who sees sounds and hears images, the Lebanese artist plunges his hands into gold and grease to question this millennial violence that is terrifyingly present these days. Passing through the heart of ancient Mesopotamia, he remembers a horde of invisible demons already sowing death and pain, thundering with the powerful storm or whistling in the winds.
Where can this demonic song that fills the Earth be found, if not in the incessant buzzing of the air strikes that fill the skies of the Middle East? The stele of ŠamaŠ is now erected in the sparkling engines of the bomber aircraft, in the phallic torpedoes excised from their compressors, their propellers or their combustion chambers. Moving away from the indifferent mechanisation of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades to draw closer to the vibrant cosmogonic Polytopes of Iannis Xenakis, this crepuscular relic from a world collapsing in the night of the Arab soul intones the Lament for Ur, like a prayer addressed to the sacred bones wrested from the god of bloodshed. By placing this sovereign engine against an eternal Golden Calf, and drawing inspiration from the byzantine mosaics of fire of San Marco, Moultaka establishes a triumphal pathway that releases garbled litanies towards this blackened ray of sunshine, broken up and shot down in mid-air. For the child of the Lebanese mountains, ŠamaŠ is mentally, physically and philosophically rooted in the rejection of the solar drama we are witnessing in the Middle East. The Arab apocalypse, which programmes its own obliteration and precipitates the world’s unravelling, is not inevitable. It is always possible to stop violence: ŠamaŠ is also a palindrome that oscillates equally between justice and injustice.