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The Paper Camera

Youmna Chlala, author

ISBN: 978-1-933959-35-1Cover Image by Youmna Chlala Book Design by Mark Addison Smith12 01 201980pp$18

"Beauty is back, rejoice!" So ends The Paper Camera, Youmna Chlala's flickering catalog of Beirut and other cities, where loss and longing are interspersed with vignettes of intimacy: family members make salad and go swimming; lovers observe each other with a languorous curiosity; childhood objects resurface. Charting the absence between unrecoverable points of origin and migrating bodies, The Paper Camera is a multilingual, hybrid text that explores how the boundaries of a city map themselves onto language and memory, while poetry proposes a new cartography.

First, we had to learn each other's languages. This was the longest, most loving trial.

Then we undid our own.

Youmna Chlala

YOUMNA CHLALA is an artist and a writer born in Beirut based in New York. Her work investigates the relationship between fate and architecture through poetry, prose, drawing, sculpture and performance. She is the recipient of an O. Henry Award, a Joseph Henry Jackson Award and the Founding Editor of Eleven Eleven {1111} Journal of Literature and Art. Her writing appears in publications such as BOMB, Guernica, Prairie Schooner, Bespoke, Aster(ix), CURA, MIT Journal for Middle Eastern Studies, Bahithat: Journal of Lebanese Women Researchers and XCP: Journal of Cross Cultural Poetics. She has exhibited widely including the Hayward Gallery, The Drawing Center, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Art In General, Rotterdam International Film Festival, Dubai Art Projects, Hessel Museum of Art, and Camera Austria. She participated in the 33rd Bienal de Sao Paulo, 2017 LIAF Biennial in Norway and the 11th Performa Biennial. She is a professor in the Humanities and Media Studies and Writing Departments at the Pratt Institute.

Praise for The Paper Camera

Youmna Chlala shows us that a book taking place in one location—be that a language, a city, between a certain set of pages—is always also unfolding some place else (in another language, a different city, in a photograph rather than a book), and it’s this double-occurring of sight and reach and render that most closely approximates what we have inherited and what we have passed on in this life of violence and remembering. The Paper Camera is a conductive force, flaring and deeply moving.

Renee Gladman

This is a remarkable 'camera' work where the film keeps moving along people who're running from city to city, continent to continent, directed by "a young girl (who) sticks her tongue out of a gun." Covering, and uncovering Lebanon, she extracts a remarkable poetry from a continuously exploding war.

Etel Adnan

Vigorously rangy and adventurous, this is a book that locates human dignity in daily detail and, in turn, tracks the minute ways that our most mundane moments are informed by ancient sources of human integrity, from Gilgamesh to sharing a meal. The triangulation of two verbal languages and one visual one underscores a dynamic based on constant displacement, creating a structural echo of the work's abiding focus on the cultural disruption created by exile in its myriad forms and causes. Most of the visual images are of windows, often taken from the outside looking in, offering a strong metaphorical through-line; we may be outside-looking-in, but we can see—not what's on the other side of the window, but something beyond it; it's a book that sees beyond the readily visible and uses that to see in more intricate ways.

Cole Swensen

Excerpt from The Paper Camera

If you arrive before me you said and the rain that wouldn’t cease, remember to rub your palm against the sandstone walls or a long ago rooftop where we slept warm and I unraveled in the corner of your misconstrued street and near a railways drawn towards the sea, I found you too late, fields disappeared beneath cities with potatoes, radishes and hopes of heaven and I knit a plane, wings crocheted from orange blossoms fastened to each other with a green line that I stole from your pocket, on a sleepy morning when buses jumped through bullet holes in buildings

windows stained pink with rosewater, stretched out like an old sweater, among rifles, long with straight spines, the parentheses of foreign universities, and again, there is no electricity and I don’t find it quite so romantic, the weariness of travel.