‘On Fools and Lands’ scrutinises the history of Asfurieh; the first mental asylum of the region established in 1898 near Beirut. Its mission was to provide to the mentally ill a proper care without any religious, class or ethnic segregation, hence countering the monopoly of priests who performed exorcism against demoniacal possession, the only form of insanity people believed in.
For 75 years and through many turbulent times it presented avant-garde therapeutic methods, such as the “open-doors policy” or “occupational therapy”. Its founder stressed the importance of the environment: calm and salubrious. This, they believed, had a direct effect on the body and the mind.
In 1973, the medical and administrative board decided to sell the land of Asfurieh and planned to build a new hospital in Aramun, getting in pace with the modern world. Construction started in 1974 and it was meant to open its doors in June 1976. But in April 1975 the Lebanese civil-war broke out. And although the new hospital was almost finished, it was never put into use. Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians and Israelis damaged it considerably. And when they had all left, the destruction was irreparable and the debts huge.
Combining photographs taken by Chaghig Arzoumanian at Asfurieh’s estate since 2010 and the annual reports of the Hospital, the artist aims to reveal traces and to reflect upon the course of Lebanese history in regard to collective consciousness, modernism and capitalism.
The launching took place on the 18th of November.
Text and photography: Chaghig Arzoumanian
Design: Studio Safar
Editing advice: Sarah Morris
Color correction: Nadim Kamel
The book was published with the support of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture – Afac
This production was made possible through Culture Resource’s Production Awards Program (Mawred Al Thaqafi)
The gathering on the 18th was supported by Massaya winery.