Mleeta - Where Hezbollah Speaks to
December 28, 2012
The resistance's journey
into modernism through its tourist landmark
Documenting the past through monuments is no new thing, but documenting
the present is.
Two years after it opened, Mleeta Resistance Tourist Landmark remains
one of the only museums dedicated to remembering a war which isn't
actually over - and it has a fascinating way of representing it.
Built on the very site Hezbollah resistance fighters used as a command
and control centre during the 1982 - 2000 war with Israel, the
multi-million dollar Mleeta is "a way to commemorate the achievements of
the resistance," according to Public Works and Transport Minister Ghazi
Aridi, in May 2011. It's also a metaphoric middle-finger aimed squarely
at the southern border. But the most confusing and impressive element of
this 60,000 square foot landmark, towering 1,060 metres over
south-eastern Lebanon, is its multifaceted design.
"The site shows the victory of Hezbollah and the defeat of Israel,"
notes Abu Hadi, a 2011 Mleeta tour guide. The dualism of this message is
the key to understanding the museum's aesthetic.
The entrance is a baffling mix of theme park cheer and military
memorabilia. The stone carved sign feels more holiday camp than battle
camp, but the staunch steel gates and metre-tall rocket shells apeak of
a bloodier past.
The juxtapositions continue upon entering. A serene water feature stands
calm in a minimal, open piazza. Its tranquility jarred only by its
resemblance to the sights of an over-sized sniper rifle.
It is a place which has many points to prove. While the placid pool
depicts a peace achieved through victory, the military aesthetic is an
active taunt to enemy surveillance planes arriving from less than 20
miles to the south. Nowhere is this more evident than in The Abyss.
Described by Mleeta as 'structural scenic art', The Abyss consists of
two 20-metre wide hollows displaying mangled Israeli tanks amidst giant
Hebrew letters and scattered ammunition. The image perhaps reflects a
hope for finality which may still be decades away. The intensity and
beauty of these sculptural collages is enhanced by how they're viewed.
Wide, theme-park-equse walkways helix downwards, gently guiding visitors
into a 360 degree appreciation of the dramatic objects caught inside.
The aesthetic as a whole sits somewhere between a desert civilisation
and a Soviet sculpture park. The poly-surfaced exhibition buildings,
asymmetrical and rocky, seem as if they have been shifted into position
by a fortuitous earthquake. They appear at once synthetic and organic;
sharply engineered structures aiming to reflect the barren nature of the
mountain outpost and the harshness of actually living there.
The combination of reality and artistic narrative continues as you move
into the woods, where networks of waist-high trenches, camouflaged by
head-high oak trees, lead to a tunnel. Despite its past military
importance, this seems to be a 'what-it-would-have-been-like' historical
exhibition built from fibreglass. This sensation is enhanced by the
life-size models of resistance fighters planted in 'daily-life' poses.
Instead of evoking empathy, they alienate - distancing the viewer from
the very real horrors and hardship the Mudjahedeen suffered. In the
context of the whole, there's something eerie about the more traditional
natural-history-museum feel of these representations.
"The museum's architecture is Hezbollah's vision of Islamic modernism,"
suggests defence and security issues journalist, Sharon Weinberger. If
this is the case, Mleeta is highlighting the importance Sayyed Hassan
Nasrallah places on the past: "We hope this tourist jihad center will be
the first step toward preserving the history of our own heroic
resistance," he explains in a seven-minute video at the beginning of the
tour. Mleeta at once covers the heritage of Hezbollah's defence, their
continued presence and their ideal of Islam.
Weinberger goes on to say that the design "combines religious imagery
with the simplicity and angular construction reminiscent of Louis I.
Khan." Khan, a 20th century architect who designs for sacred spaces of
diverse religions, is famous for his airy yet muscular, monumental
Mleeta is indeed a modern monument, and its religiosity is
self-confirmed in its tagline, 'Where the land speaks to the heavens.'
But the main question still seems to be: what is this land saying to its
visitors from earth?