Curator Christine Tohme, founder and director of the Lebanese Association for the Plastic Arts, Ashkal Alwan, has been denied a passport renewal by Lebanon’s Directorate of General Security due to a warrant against her, according to a statement from Tohme posted to Facebook by the Lebanese artist Tony Chakar. In her statement, Tohme alleged that she has “no doubt that this warrant is directly linked to the domain of my work as a director of […] Ashkal Alwan.”
A prominent figure both regionally and internationally, Tohme was recently appointed curator of the 13th Sharjah Biennial, slated for 2017. She also received the Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence from Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies alongside the artist Martha Wilson last year, and has made several appearances on ArtReview’s “Power 100″ art-world listing of notables since 2010. She founded Ashkal Alwan in 1993 and established the biennial Home Works Forum on Cultural Practice in 2002.
In another post to Facebook, Chakar, who is scheduled to speak at a monthlong forum on art and politics at Ashkal Alwan next month, “Denormalizing Bodies. Rehearsing Citizenship,” noted that Tohme “is not the only one, by the way, but I will refrain from naming others until I know they want to be named.”
The apparent crackdown on cultural practice follows last year’s “You Stink” antigovernment protests in Beirut, in which many artists participated — though there are no reported connections between “You Stink” and Ashkal Alwan. A report submitted to the United Nations in March 2015 by the free expression advocacy groups Freemuse, PEN International, and PEN Lebanon criticized the “broad discretionary powers” of censorship held by the Directorate of General Security and concluded that “Lebanon is failing to abide by its international commitments to protect fully the artistic freedoms of its citizens.”
The Embassy of Lebanon in Washington, DC, and the Consulate General of Lebanon in New York did not respond to requests for comment. Tohme’s full statement follows below.
Statement from Christine Tohme, director of Ashkal Alwan.
Two days ago I applied to the Directorate of General Security for a passport renewal. When I went back to get my passport, I was informed that the renewal was suspended, due to a warrant issued against me.
I have no doubt that this warrant is directly linked to the domain of my work, as a director of the Lebanese Association for the Plastic Arts, Ashkal Alwan. As such, the significance of this action against me cannot be understated, as it affects the domain of other civic workers, as well as mine personally.
Using warrants illegally for obstruction of an administrative procedures, such as renewing passports, strips people of their right to mobility and travel. This is an illegal penalty issued by an administrative security authority, not a judiciary one.
— Mostafa Heddaya (@mheddaya)