Taking the classical story of Dido and Aeneas as its starting point, the exhibition will include the work of nine contemporary artists, each exploring the theme of heartbreak. From personal to political, the works in ‘Heartbreak’ will align with RUYA MAPS’ mission to support artists working in, or concentrating on, areas of political instability, while addressing the need for a wider global conversation about loss, betrayal and exploitation. The exhibition will be RUYA MAPS’ first presentation in Venice and will include work by Majd Abdel Hamid (b. 1988), Talar Aghbashian (b. 1981), Lana Čmajčanin (b. 1983), Maryam Hoseini (b. 1988), Imad Issa (b. 1953), Farah Khelil (b. 1980), Randa Maddah (b. 1983), Füsun Onur (b. 1938) and Christiana Soulou (b.1961).
The works on display explore the collective heartbreak felt by communities experiencing war and conflict. A number of new commissions directly concern Dido’s experience of heartbreak, and interrogate violence as a source of heartbreak through Virgil’s story. Tamara Chalabi, Director or RUYA MAPS and co-curator of ‘Heartbreak’ has said: “Our exhibition follows the map of the ancient world, reaching east to Persia and west to Rome, to trace this journey of heartbreak. In recent and current times, over this extended area, notable cultural and political trauma – through the loss of countries and the loss of lives in war – contribute to the loss of the past and a loss of hope. We are exploring the voices of artists who negotiate their lives and creativity from heartbreak to heartbreak, because of their love for a person, a family, a social group or a country.”
Paolo Colombo, co-curator of ‘Heartbreak’ has said: “Through a series of new commissions and never-before-seen works, ‘Heartbreak’ will explore the interconnections between individual histories and collective devastation: heartbreak both intimate and social. We have selected artists from areas of rich cultural heritage within the wider map of Aeneas’ travels until his encounter with Dido.”
The story of Dido and Aeneas is a fitting starting point, as it touches on aspects of grief and sorrow that extend beyond personal distress into collective experience concerning land, country, fate and historical necessity. Their story is also a tale of East and West; Dido is an Eastern queen betrayed for the foundation of a Western city destined to become an empire. Virgil describes the love between Dido and Aeneas in his epic The Aeneid, which relates the story of the foundation of Rome. Aeneas, a Trojan prince and refugee of the Trojan War, alights on a journey that takes him to the Italian peninsula. During his journey, Aeneas meets and falls in love with Dido Queen of Carthage (located in modern day Tunisia) and stays with her for many months. The foundation of Rome relies on Aeneas’ abandonment of Dido and when Aeneas leaves Dido commits suicide.
A counterpoint to the Dido and Aeneas story will be presented in a new commission that responds to the 12th-century version of the legend of Layla and Majnun by the celebrated Persian poet Nizami (1141–1209). The poem tells the story of a forbidden love which causes Layla to be imprisoned and Majnun to descend into madness. The story offers two useful reversals of the exhibition’s narrative, firstly by exploring a well known Eastern love story and secondly by presenting an equilibrium in the gender exchange – whilst the woman suffers most in the Roman story, both lovers in this Eastern story end in despair and eventual death.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue published by RUYA MAPS.