blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


CAMILLE ZAKHARIA  |  Elusive Homelands

Cultivate Your Garden

The Cultivate Your Garden suite is an autobiographical work. It is a complex, highly textured photographic collage inspired by Voltaire’s literary satirical classical novel, Candide, whereby Voltaire ridicules the optimistic theory of “all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” Candide, the naïve hero of the story, learns this philosophy of life and goes on a series of adventures where he experiences the disaster of war, hunger sickness, and torture. He settles down at the end of the novel to “cultivate his garden” and seek fulfillment from the modest routine of everyday life.

Cultivate Your Garden, detail panels four and five
 Cultivate Your Garden
 (detail panels four and five)
 Photo collage on paper

In this work, though, there is a twist to the original story. Because of the Lebanese civil war, I had to leave Lebanon and look for a garden to cultivate abroad. Drawing upon my early photography, I constructed a mythical landscape. This monumental photographic installation is composed of seven panels, which in turn are populated by somber, monochromatic figures that dominate the foreground in contrast to the rich and colorful background. A hybrid of Beirut, New York, Paris, Bahrain, and places in Turkey, Greece, and Canada—locations that at one point or another in my life I have called home—the dreamscape represents my surreal garden and resonates a sense of displacement. The figures are people whose acquaintance and friendship have accompanied me throughout my journey.

—Camille and Sulaf Zakharia