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Family Archive

An Interview with Amanda Boulos

Border Crossings: Back in 2016 did you do research in the oral archive at the American University of Beirut?

Amanda Boulos: Yes. My intention was to fill in the gaps that my family could not fill because what they’d shared was so tiny in comparison with what had actually happened. Hearing hundreds of other people recounting the same stories was super-important for finishing my master’s thesis and getting a hold on that history. In most of the archives you’re watching people recount the exile in 1948, which is the same history my parents experienced. My great-grandparents were living in Haifa and Yaffa, which is now Israel, and were exiled in 1948 from those cities. They ended up in Beirut, where some of the family were already residing. When the war broke out there was no place for them as Catholic Palestinians. They were discriminated against by the majority Palestinian Muslim community because they were Catholic and they couldn’t get any support from the Lebanese community because they were Palestinian, so they found themselves in a middle ground where they had to fend for themselves. A lot of the oral archives talk about the same thing. The narratives refer to changes of identity and adjusting to entirely new lifestyles.

Much of your practice has been an endeavour to turn the oral into a visual language. Obviously, those stories have stayed with you and have become part of your sensibility.

Totally. We grew up with shared narratives. My family wasn’t really educated, so family gatherings were often sitting around with my grandmother and my aunts and uncles and talking and telling stories. In a way that was the basis of my relationship to them and their lives, and it does come out in my work quite a bit, especially in my latest paintings.

Amanda Boulos, Mother Water, 2019, oil on panel, 37 x 33 inches.

I want to talk about the videos you did as well. There is one called Jump and Cut, which shows young men jumping off the Raouché, or Pigeon’s Rocks, and for the first 90 seconds of that video, you never see a single person hit the water. Then suddenly that’s all you see, and when they splash, it’s like an explosion. What you were getting at in withholding and then delivering on the most dramatic moment of the jump?

That video is based on a story that my mother shared with me. During the Lebanese Civil War my family lived right in front of Pigeon’s Rocks and they would witness all sorts of things happening because it is an open space and the backdrop is the Mediterranean Sea. They witnessed the war from their balcony, but they also had a lot of enjoyable moments along that shoreline in Beirut. One of the activities young men engaged in was jumping off these famous cliffs. It’s a practice no one does any more because people became aware of the risks. But it makes me think about the state of mind of the population during the war because there was a combination of carelessness and showing off. It was okay for them to risk their lives. I made the video in such a way that it holds and focuses your attention and then everything gets released all at once.

Have you left video behind to concentrate on painting?

Yes, but I’ve been thinking a lot about video recently because I’ve been mentoring filmmakers for the Toronto Palestine Film Festival. We mentor four filmmakers each year. So video is creeping back into my life, but if I had to choose, then painting is definitely my number one medium.

Do you keep notebooks as a way of recording ideas for future paintings?

I’m a sketcher so every night I’m doodling, as I like to call it. I keep up that practice. I’m always creating new imagery, working with symbols, incorporating stories, just constructing a language.

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Volume 40, Number 1: Painting

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #156, published May 2021.

Border Crossings looks at contemporary art with interest, passion and thoroughness. Subscribe to Border Crossings today for as little as $24/year.