Anatomy of a Scandal

In November 2013, and 2 years after its last exhibition, international satellite channel Al-Jadeed featured my photographic series “In Your Home” as a news interest story within their Trending programme. The host aired screenshots of my website as well as (censored) images from the series, inviting the audience to question whether the work of “this Lebanese girl” could be considered as art or a scandal.

From that instant, I became a web controversy, as the story was promptly picked up by numerous online news channels, discussed by hundreds in comment sections and shared on social media. People were either defending my work—and condemning the media for birthing the scandal—or vilifying it, judging me as a woman, as an Arab, as an artist.

I did not partake in the debate and declined invitations to “defend myself” on television talk show panels, knowing my voice would only fuel and validate the sensationalist fodder rather than allow for constructive dialogue. Instead, I observed in silence and forensically collected all the online material created by the media storm. I was especially interested in the comment threads that grew under the Facebook news stories about me. Trolling is a widespread phenomenon whereby online lynching occurs within the seemingly safe and ‘anonymous’ confines of the web. However, these Facebook news pages were very public, and alongside each comment was the name and profile picture of the speaker, which I duly recorded.

I also collected all the censored “In Your Home images created by the different media outlets—a liberal use of pixels, black bars, and Photoshop blur and paint marks—as well as the emails that were sent to me soliciting my friendship, my hand in marriage, my participation in porn films, or genuinely encouraging my work.

Consisting of framed email printouts, original “In Your Home” framed prints now similarly ‘censored’, and a video piece in which I narrate online comments about me, my work and my body, “Anatomy of a Scandal” (2016) is a multimedia installation that translates the virtual scandal into a physical experience. The resulting documentation is an attempt to neutralise the violent initial assault through its dismantling, and to address notions of shame and the female body in the age of online chatter.

© All rights reserved. Rasha Kahil, 2021