Corinne in The Arab Weekly

July 10, 2015, Page 22

Prize-winning Tunisia’s Memoir evokes beauty and brutality

WASHINGTON – With its natural beau­ty, rich history and Whitlatchtunisiademocratic transi­tion, Tunisia has everything going for it. Yet, its progress belies simmer­ing pockets of dissent; more than 3,000 young Tunisians are said to have joined the Islamic State (ISIS) and terrorists have attacked tourists at the Bardo Museum and in Sousse.

After launching the “Arab spring”, which withered everywhere else, Tunisia, the poster child for pro­gress, now grasps tightly the reins of forward momentum.

Before the terrorists struck, ISIS brazenly tweeted “two lions are on the attack”. Indeed, lions starred in some ugly ancient Tunisian history; 72 kilometres south in the coastal town of El Djem, third-century Romans released lions to kill each other or gladiator slaves for sport in an amphitheatre that seated 35,000 people.

This vast venue of ghoulish enter­tainment remains largely intact and is a World Heritage Site. In heral­dic decor worldwide, lions convey bravery, strength and royalty. In­deed Tunisia’s coat of arms features a lion holding a sword representing order. And so, the lion’s image con­jures both positive and negative connotations.

Tunisia’s Memoir, a stunning work by glass artist Corinne Whit­latch, has just been awarded third place in the 2015 Juried Regional Exhibition at the Hill Center Galler­ies in Washington. The judge was Mark Leithauser, senior curator and chief of design at Washington’s Na­tional Gallery of Art, who selected Whitlatch’s work out of 100 pieces on show.

“Corinne’s work is inspirational,” said Hill Center Director Nicky Cym­rot. “It reflects not only her exqui­site artist’s sensibility but impres­sive craftsmanship to use minute pieces of glass and other materials and make it look seamless.”

At about 80 centimetres and framed in interlocking 8-point stars, Tunisia’s Memoir features an imposing mosaic lion as the focal point, based on one Whitlatch saw years ago at Tunis’s Bardo Museum. “The lion is a powerful symbol,” she said. “Of all the incredible mosaics I saw in Tunisia, this image struck me as so evocative of both the beau­ty and brutality of Roman rule in Tunisia, so I knew I needed to build this composition around it.”

The hammered and pierced brass and copper are characteristic ele­ments of her work. Whitlatch ex­plained that carved plaster in the Mausoleum of Sidi Sahbi inspired the interlaced Islamic design. The indigo pigment acknowledges the indigenous Tuareg Berber people. The pressed plants were preserved in her guidebook, and she collected the gypsum, metal trin­kets and ceramics. Other shards are from Turkey and Jerusalem. She found the aqua slab glass, ingen­iously attached to a “hand of Fa­tima”, on a beach near Caesarea and guessed it may be from an­cient glass-making along the Lebanese coast.

The materials’ origins offer surprising stories: the coral came from a neck­lace given to her by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, whom she met in Tu­nis in 1987 when travelling with a peace activist group. Whitlatch vis­ited Tunisia again in 2010. “When the ‘Arab spring’ started,” she said, “I thought that given the level of education of the people we’d met, political reform had the greatest chance to succeed in Tunisia, and I still haven’t given up hope.”

Whitlatch worked for 21 years as director of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). Representing nu­merous Christian denominations, she promoted awareness about Middle East is­sues and advocated CMEP’s policy plat­form: justice for Pal­estinians, a shared Jeru­salem and comprehensive peace.

Whitlatch led delegations to Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Leba­non, Syria, the Palestinian territo­ries, Tunisia and Turkey to meet religious and political leaders, in­cluding Syrian President Bashar Assad at the request of Syria’s Christian community. Beyond the agenda, she ensured that members experienced the national culture, through home-stays, day-trips and museum visits.

In 1998 she also spent a two-month sabbatical in Bethlehem, teaching adult students to craft items for the tourist market using broken bottles and glass.

Whitlatch’s artwork reflects her study of Islamic ornamentation, appreciation of Middle Eastern cul­ture and a deep sadness about the region’s intractable turmoil. She brilliantly weaves “found objects” into her artwork, evoking the re­gion’s diversity, conflicts and cul­tural heritage.

Damascus Inflamed is a dramatic interpretation of Syria’s wartime violence and destruction. Whitlatch celebrates Syrian marquetry and brass arts with the 12 points repre­senting different communities and the focal point celebrating the old city’s architecture.

Hebron Architecture of Fire and Water evokes the story of God sav­ing Abraham from Nimrod’s pyre by transforming fire into water and embers into fish; fruits signify hope for abundance. The outer white arches reflect old city architecture. Scraps of broken cobalt, cast medal­lions and fish were gifts from local glassblowers.

Beit Jala Besieged memorialises the destruction of homes during fighting across the West Bank’s Gilo ravine in 1991 including shards of a broken vase from the floor of the Or­thodox Youth Centre.

Jerusalem addresses Israel’s sov­ereign claim. The blue surrounding the Star of David symbolises the Dome of the Rock and the diminu­tive lamb represents the shrinking Christian community as flames leap from the rose medallion.

Whitlatch’s artwork appears in numerous juried exhibitions. She accepts private commissions. Her work can be seen online at www.corinnewhitlatch.com.

—Najwa Margaret Saad

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Corinne in Saudi Aramco World

May/June, 2013

Aramco selected___________________________________________________________________________________________Aramco top

Corinne in Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

April 2013, Page 57

Whitlatch Exhibit Depicts Search For Peace

Hebron architecture of fire and waterTHE WALLS OF the Jerusalem Fund Gallery in Washington, DC, sparkled with reflective light from the wall sculptures of glass artist Corinne Whitlatch. Titled “Visual Musings on a Search for Peace,” the exhibition reflects her thoughts on peace, musings she contemplates during the many hours she twists, solders and mounts the components of her intricate sculptures. Many of the works contain glass, iron and pottery shards she acquired while traveling in Palestine and the Middle East. She incorporates symbols and icons of the region to speak to universal truths, such as in the piece titled “Bethlehem.” The center of cobalt blue was blown and stamped by the Nitshce family glass-blowing factory in Hebron. The pottery pieces are from the rim of a bowl from Jerusalem’s Balian Armenian pottery studio, with the outer blue rim from a plate made in Hebron. The intertwined stars are a traditional Arab design motif, and the grey glass border reflects the wall that surrounds Bethlehem.

Whitlatch retired in 2007, after serving as executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 20 national Chris­tian organizations in Washington, DC for 21 years. A Quaker craftsman in a church-window production shop in Des Moines, Iowa taught Whitlatch the traditional skills of making stained glass windows in the early 1970s. The Whitlatch exhibit will be on view in the Jerusalem Fund Gallery from April 19 through May 24.

—Dagmar Painter

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