Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Lebanese Rocket Society Show in Paris Unveils a Buried Space Race History @ZaidanGallery http://goo.gl/mY8L6

The strange history behind the exhibition and film “The Lebanese Rocket Society” (on view at the Paris gallery In Situ through April 18) began when Beirut-based artist-filmmakers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, researching Lebanese history, stumbled upon a postage stamp from the 1960s with an image of a rocket on it. Curious about its background, they asked around what it might relate to, but no one seemed to remember anything about it.

 Finally, going through old press clippings from the era, they discovered that Lebanon had not only competed in the world's high-speed space race from 1957 to 1969, concurrent with the Cold War and Pan-Arab movement, but had produced and successfully launched the first rocket in Arab history. The artists wondered, How could this episode from Lebanon’s past have been wiped away from collective memory?

 By lucky coincidence, they found the person behind this space adventure: math professor Manoug Manougian, who later gave them access to his personal archives. Manougian now lives in Tampa, Florida, but at the time he taught at Beirut’s Haigazian University. With a group of students, he built the first homemade Lebanese rocket, which was followed by many others.

 The two artists relate this truly epic story step by step (or rather launch by launch) in their film and exhibition, which includes eyewitness accounts and archival images. The 95-minute film will also be released in French theaters March 27...