Wednesday, November 17, 2021

On separating the art from the artist: The case of Msgr Mansour Labaki


So, can we separate the art from the artist? The French tribunal has just sentenced Msgr. Mansour Labaki for 15 years of prison for crimes of pedophelia (he, however has not been extradited from Lebanon, neither was he at the trial pretexting health issues, yet he remains in a nuns' monastery in Broumana sequestered by order of the church). Labaki is very well known (and dare I say respected) in Lebanon. Apart from the his philanthropic works (yes, there is no other word) and his political bravado during the war (again, there is no other word), one of his most known facets has been his hymn-making. A very staunch Maronite acquaintance of mine once told me: If it's a memorable hymn it's Mansour Labaki.

And if you do not believe him try these for size:

Inshallah el am7a انشالله القمحة

3araftan bi an kad ta3athara darbi عرفت بـأن قد تعثر دربي

Ta3ala baynana تعال بيننا

Fi zolli 7imayatiki في ظل حمايتك

Rabbi anta tariki ربي انت طريقي

Hananaka ya rabba al akwani حنانك يا رب الاكوان

Outrouk koulla chay2in wa itba3ni اترك كل شيْ واتبعني

Albi mhayya mghara قلبي مهيا مغارة

Tawakalna 3ala el Allahi توكلنا على الله

Laylata al Milad ليلة الميلاد

For my generation, these were ubiquitous hymns taught either at school or at church or during religious gatherings. Easy, suave and very catchy to learn. (Please catch his most known "hits" - part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4). But where does this leave us? It leaves us with a full generation of Christian children (the war generation) having their collective memories built around a Pedophilic priest. Ask any person of my generation who is of Christian heritage (regardless of their current state of faith), about their childhood memories, and bingo - you get Mansour Labaki (know him or not, as lately I came to understand that people know his hymns without knowing he was the author).

Which begs the eternal question: Can we ever separate the art from the artist?

The list is endless and long - starting from the very fresh Kanye West with his daily mutterings and views, to Richard Wagner and his ties to Nazism, to Coco Chanel with also ties to Nazism (she was after all, the only non-military resident at the Ritz in Paris during the war), to French actress Arletty and her very known sentence "mon coeur est Francais, mais mon cul est international" (my heart is French, but my p*ssy is international), to Caravaggio who was a pimp and murderer, Betrolt Brecht was enamored with Stalin, and Plato was a Pedophile.

The above is just an amuse-gueule of a much longer, tortuous and very complicated list. Most people do not realize who did the artworks they have come to like, what the past of these people is, their convictions, their attitudes, but also to be fair - what was socially permissible when these artists lived. Tell any staunch Christian with a cheap copy of the Mona Lisa that the person who drew that photo hanging in the salon (above their fake Louis whatever number furniture) was homosexual and see them gasp. Once more, people just like the art, irrespective of who had done it, with little interest in who had done it as a matter of fact, and few of them bother to research who did and what their views, values and principles were.

I know, I know, it seems I actually defending a convicted pedophile at this stage. But again, ask those elderly women in the sororities, and the middle-aged men (yes, this includes me as I was born in 1974!) about who did this hymn they memorized and which they might hum come Christmas (am thinking of Labaki's simple, glorious, lovely "Laylat al Milad") and the answer would be a total blank. The artwork will outlast its author, whomever its author was.