Born in 1967 in Beirut, Lebanon.
Lives and works in Cairo.
El Horeyya Gayya Labod (in Arabic, ‘Freedom Is Coming’), 2013
Sculpture, iron and leather
Egyptian-Lebanese artist Lara Baladi is internationally recognized for her multidisciplinary work. In her investigations into myths, archives, personal histories and socio-political narratives, Baladi makes use of a wide range of mediums including architecture, video and multimedia installations, photography, analogue and digital collage, tapestry, perfume and sculpture.
As a cultural tradition and a device of sexual control, the chastity belt first appeared in ancient Egypt. The pharaonic version was simply a string tied around a slave’s waist, signaling her sexual unavailability while also reinforcing her social status as sexually inferior. Commonly associated with European medieval culture—another historical time of strict and oppressive social norms, the chastity belt kept women faithful during the crusades. The object, as the model for a large-scale sculpture, is a visual reference that immediately sets it into this past period of brutal inequality, which is being echoed today in the world at large.
Recent events in Egypt have brought forward these concerns in a particularly intense fashion. The culture of oppression of women, and the sexual repression that men live through by consequence, is deeply embedded in the Arab world. There’s a closed circle in which people are descending into a spiral of mutual oppression. This tendency is much more obvious in political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis. But the danger is that society at large sees this issue as being restricted to these Islamic movements. It is everyone’s disease and it has become increasingly so during the past two decades. The work resonates with this broader, barely hidden misogyny bubbling to the surface throughout the world.
Due to this oppression, the need to erect a shield against abuse becomes obvious. The chastity belt takes on a much larger significance with this need in mind, therefore addressing not only notions of freedom but also of boundaries. The sculpture is large enough to engulf a human being, and in so doing becomes a cage. It is a prison made of iron, a substance that is obdurate and resistant to change. These qualities refer to how people can become trapped by the historical circumstances of their era and their social environment.
What we’re experiencing now, especially in Egypt after the revolution, is a full-on counter-revolution and an extreme resistance to the possibility of an entirely new world. Liberals and secularists are becoming the minority, finding it necessary to hide and protect them selves. Ultimately, the belt represents this greater danger, this loss of freedom in the world over.