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In Lebanon, posters in clichés

"Those, I like them a lot, they are very eloquent!" Abboudi Abu Jaoudé, standing in the Beirut gallery Dar el-Nimer, next to three of his the Chatelaine du Liban, released in theaters in 1956. "The designers offer here a very personal vision of the country of Cedar", he continues, with a smile on his face, in front of twenty people who came to attend a guided tour of his exhibition "The Thief of Baghdad". On the wall, posters of the French-Italian feature film show Bedouins, weapons in hand, sometimes stallions and camels, sometimes under a tent in the desert, leaving guess in the background of oil deposits. A sensual turn, cigarette in hand in a long red dress marrying her forms, then febrile, threatened by male power, or sexy, hair in the wind, belly dancer in front of a bed of men, the figure feminine systematically occupies a central place. "It's a wonderful incarnation of clichés about the Arab world," the Lebanese collector amuses himself who, at the age of 61, has still not had the opportunity to walk the sand anywhere else along the Mediterranean coast, on the beach, far from any desert populated by men in long white dress and keffieh. "It does not exist here!" He slips.

Abboudi Abu Jaoudé exhibited until May 25 a hundred posters of films from the years 1924 to 1978, from his personal collection. Passionate about seventh art since a young age, this professional publisher is still a teenager during his first acquisitions at the Eldorado, a former Hamra screening room, located in the west of the capital. The aficionado began by accumulating posters staring Steve McQueen, Sophia Loren or Brigitte Bardot, his idols of youth, but very quickly, caught by the virus and his profession that led him to the four corners of the Arab world, Abu Abboudi Jaoudé has expanded his interest in foreign film posters to those from his region. He now has more than 20,000, unearthed from Morocco to Iraq through Syria and Jordan. It was by starting to sort and index them a few years ago that the idea of ​​an exhibition sprang up in him.

From belly dancers to spies

"I was struck by the similarities between the Western posters and the paintings of the Orientalists of the XVIII and XIXe century, He says. Arabs are portrayed with the same codes, the same aesthetic. " In the gallery Dar el-Nimer, the illustrations of the feature films the Thief of Baghdad, Thousand and One Nights or Ali Baba and the forty thieves actually offer a standardized view of the Arab world. Whether they were made in France, Italy, Great Britain or the United States, and the film is held in Lebanon, Morocco or the Arabian Peninsula, all the posters represent a region populated by inhabited deserts by Bedouins on camels, and palaces occupied by strong men, saber in hand, accompanied by sensual belly dancers, under their influence. "The same pictures are reproduced again and again, confirms Omar Thawabeh, the gallery's communication officer. But it's interesting to see the evolution over the years: before the Second World War, the Arab world is an oasis of belly dancers and valiant fighters, after the conflict and the creation of Israel, it appears more like a nest of spies. "

The cover of "The Thief of Baghdad" was discontinued in 1978, leaving no room for posters of recent feature films. The posterOperation Beirut, released in 2018, would have otherwise found its place, for sure. Last year, this American film angered the Lebanese, who criticized the director Brad Anderson for presenting their country as an eldorado of terrorism. "We are joking today about the stereotypes of the last century, but these posters can be dangerous, Omar Thawabeh regrets. Images are powerful and can be used as a cultural weapon. "

Mélanie Houé correspondent in Beirut



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