Lara Baladi, La Mere Noire, 2010, digital collage, permanent pigment print on somerset paper or gesso, 110 x 110 cm, ed. of 8.

Reading Fortunes from Coffee Grounds, a Diary of the Future

Lara Baladi, Chronologie, 2010 (detail), 14 permanent pigment prints on somerset paper or gesso, 980 x 220 cm, ed. of 8.

Lara Baladi, La Mere Noire (detail), 2010, digital collage, permanent pigment print on somerset paper or gesso, 110 x 110 cm, ed. of 8.

Lara Baladi, Rose, 2010, Digital collage, permanent print on somerset paper or gesso, 410 cm x 410 cm, ed. of 8.

Lara Baladi, Relative Destinies, 2010, 12 permanent pigment prints on somersent paper or Gesso, 440 x 420 c,. ed. of 8.


Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde
Al Quoz 1, street 6a
+ 97 1 (0)4 340 3965
Diary of the Future
May 3-June 10, 2010

Ritual is a tender anchor. Through repetition, we find comfort in an otherwise uncertain reality. It is this essence of ritual that Lara Baladi explores in Diary of the Future, an ensemble of works that emerged from the time preceding the death of her father. The works are a celebration of the continuity of life in the face of death. Collectively, they are testament to what the artist refers to as ‘the movement found within stillness.’

Born in Lebanon, raised in Paris, Lara moved to Egypt in 1997. From the time she arrived in Cairo, her grandmother started inviting friends and family of all generations for lunch every Sunday. These lunches would invariably end with drinking Turkish coffee. One of the regular visitors, Nina, would read fortunes in the thick black residue of coffee at the bottom of each cup. These readings became an integral part of that Sunday ritual. After 50 years away from Egypt, Lara’s father returned to Cairo in 2007 to die in the place he was born. By August of that year, it became clear that he could pass away at any time. The artist focused on the collective experience of her family as they accompanied him in his final six months. She writes of that time: ‘How could I show the beauty and the tensions, the sadness and the joy of this communal moment which was neither morbid nor melancholic but rather excessive and strangely positive?’

The reading of coffee cups assumed importance as a medium to reflect upon this dramatic period. Lara issued strict instructions to each of her father’s visitors: drink, turn the cup upside down, turn it around three times, tap the top twice and label the cup with name and date. The cups were then stored until the artist photographed them. As each cup was turned over, deep brown rivulets and deposits in the dregs were revealed. In the photographs, we see these lines pale as they move towards the rim. White porcelain is visible between the textured brown of the coffee. In the spiralling formations created in the viscous residue, symbols or the outline of shapes appear as the granules run down to a deep black and fathomless centre.

In Chronologie, Lara presents a selection of the photographs in rows, capturing a fragmented narrative of those months. We sense the ceremony, an unseen performance, behind each image.

Meeting, drinking and reading coffee in such a ritualised manner articulates the collective anticipation that drew her family together. And though Lara’s life at this time became insular and private, a huis clos, transcendence is implicit in the reading of cups. In Rose, La Mere Noire and The Eye of Adam, the images are assembled into graceful shapes. The delicacy and careful patterning of these collages remind us of both a stained glass window and a paper doily, the blackness of the cups seeming to perforate the complex pattern within the lace. These works contain a sense of the intimacy of the original readings. There are also echoes of Buddhist mandalas about them, with a pattern that seems to bloom from its centre. We see the flow of an arabesque. Or perhaps a cell placed under a microscope, a visceral and mortal reality implicit in each cup.

With the interlocking weave of lace as a wonderful visual metaphor, the works meditate on the idea that our past, present and future are entwined. Just as her father’s visitors would never get the same formations in their cup of coffee from one day to the next, so Lara reflects that our futures are defined by a present that is constantly changing. Relative Destinies, a monumental arrangement of the cups into a vast square, points to the subjective interpretations that each person would read into the cups and in the work. In the distinctly Middle Eastern popular language of cup-reading, soggy ground coffee in the shape of a fish may be interpreted as coming wealth — but it is the intuitive language of interpretation, subjectivity itself, that is at the core of what is being explored here.

The accompanying sound piece, Fragments, is a five-track recording of Nina’s interpretation of the photographs. Touching on the myriad fears, melancholia and strange hopefulness of that time, Nina’s 13-minute kaleidoscopic narrative seems to glide through the emotions that are embedded in these images. Diary of the Future points to an intangible yearning that we feel in the face of mortality. The clairvoyant projections, the reading of cups, hints at a desire for a glimpse of something eternal: an unformed future that arises from the reality of the present. The artist shows us a narrative of life’s continuity in the face of death, and that change is our only certainty.

Baladi is an artist working essentially with reproducible images in various media and formats. Her installations, videos and collages, which often stage culturally hybrid scenes, are dense with mythology and visual theory. She addresses memory, both collective and personal, in a codified and multi-cultural language articulated in a world of shifting boundaries. Symbolic appropriations contribute to the construction of her numerous visual landscapes.

Born in Lebanon in 1969 of Lebanese-Egyptian origin, Baladi has lived in Beirut, Paris, London and Cairo, where she currently works and resides.

Her work has been exhibited internationally across the Middle East, the US, Japan and Europe, and is part of a number of contemporary art collections, including the Chase Collection in New York, the Fondation Cartier in Paris, the Museet for Fotokunst in Copenhagen and the Pori Art Museum in Finland.

She won the Grand Nile Prize at the 2008-09 Cairo Biennial for her project Borg El Amal. Baladi received a fellowship from the Japan Foundation in 2003 following which, one of her large scale installations, Roba Vecchia, was created and shown in Cairo in February 2006, in Art Dubai and the Sharjah biennial in 2007 and in the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, in February 2009. In 2006, Baladi was commissioned to show a 20 screens / projections installation along one kilometer of seashore on the opening night of the Image of the Middle East festival in Denmark. The same year, Baladi initiated and directed Fenenin El-Rahhal, an “artists working summit” on the subject of Territory in the Egyptian Western desert (

She is a member of the Beirut-based Fondation Arabe pour l’Image. She has lived and worked in Cairo since 1997. Her work is represented by the Townhouse gallery in Cairo, by la B.A.N.K. in Paris, by the Brancolini and Grimaldi gallery in Italy and by Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde in the Emirate.

Lara Baladi, The Eye of Adam, 2010, digital collage, permanent pigment print on somerset paper or Gesso, 65 x 120 cm, ed. of 8.