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The concept of “Nature” is still widely used to criminalize individuals for their sexual orientation, gender identity or way of being. In Lebanon, the article 534 of the penal code condemns “sexual intercourse against nature;” the article 377 in India defines “carnal intercourse against the order of nature;” while in Kenya, article 162 declares “carnal knowledge against the order of Nature.”

“Nature,” as opposed to “Culture” (or “Society”), is recognized as one of the cruxes of the modern Western value system. Even if “against nature” comes from the contra naturam in Napoleonian penal code, there was no cultural translation for its legal implementation in former French and English colonies. In Lebanon for instance, there is no legal document that defines what “against nature” means and what nature is with regards to the law.

With this arbitrary concept dividing what is “natural” and “unnatural”, it is not surprising that politicians, judges or religious figures still ascribe to Nature such an undeniable source of authority; an authority that is arguably based on religious morality. However, recent cases (in 2009 and 2014) supported by Legal Agenda in Lebanon, demonstrated that judges have the right to interpret the concept of nature in order to dismiss accusations of sodomy.

Based on this precedent, Council in collaboration with Legal Agenda and Ashkal Alwan has initiated The Manufacturing of Rights, a collective pluridisciplinary inquiry that will unfold in a series of new arguments to question the construction of the concept of Nature in its relation to the regulation of gender and sexual norms.

Research Group

  • Marwa Arsanios
  • Lawrence Abu Hamdan
  • Youmna Makhlouf
  • Maya Mikdashi
  • Carlos Motta
  • Karim Nammour
  • David Kim

moved to downtown Beirut in 2007, when she founded the 98weeks Research Project with her cousin, the writer and curator Mirene Arsanios. In 2009, they opened the 98weeks Project Space in Mar Mikhael, a district that was quickly absorbing an onslaught of new studios, cafés, design boutiques, bars and restaurants. Aware that they were inevitably contributing to the area’s gentrification, the Arsanioses organized a workshop in 2010, which took the history of Mar Mikhael as its subject. They dug into the many layers that make up the neighbourhood’s curious urban density, including the refugee camps – first Armenian, then Palestinian – that were repeatedly destroyed by illness, fire and war.

is an artist with a background in DIY music. His work frequently deals with the relationship between listening and politics, borders, human rights, testimony and truth through the production of documentaries, essays, audio-visual installations, video, sculpture, photography, workshops and performance. In 2015, Abu Hamdan was the Armory Show commissioned artist and was also included in the New Museum Triennial. In 2013, Abu Hamdan’s audio documentary The Freedom of Speech Itself was submitted as evidence at the UK asylum tribunal where the artist himself was called to testify as an expert witness. The artist’s forensic audio investigations are made as part of his research for Forensic Architecture, Goldsmiths College London, where he is also a PhD candidate and associate lecturer. His previous solo exhibitions have been at The Showroom, London, at Casco in Utrecht, in Beirut, in Cairo and forthcoming at Kunsthalle St Gallen and MoMa New York.

has worked extensively to protect the rights of transgender and transsexual individuals in Lebanon. As a legal researcher, she gave visibility and public debate to the 2014 ruling of a transwomen judged under Article 534 of Lebanon’s penal code, condemning an “act against Nature.” She is a practicing lawyer and a member of Legal Agenda’s board.

Maya Mikdashi is a legal anthropologist and is currently a Mellon Postdoc at Rutgers University. Her upcoming book length manuscript entitled "Sex and Sectarianism: Secularism, Secularity and War in Contemporary Lebanon," is both an archival and ethnographic study of the regulation of sexual and religious difference within secular political systems. Maya works at the intersection of legal anthropology, feminism, queer theory, and theories of sovereignty, secularism and religion. She has worked on a number of documentary film projects, and continues to edit and write for Jadaliyya, an ezine that she co-founded and that is centered on critical approaches to studying the transnational Middle East.

draws upon political history in his work in an attempt to create counter narratives that recognize suppressed histories, communities, and identities. His films Nefandus Trilogy (2013) or Deseos / رغبات from 2015 address the construction, categorization and repression of homoeroticism throughout the conquest and colonial period in the Americas. His recent database documentary Gender Talents (2015) presents video portraits of trans and intersex activists who thoughtfully perform gender as a personal, social, and political opportunity, rather than as a social condemnation.

is a member of social justice non-governmental organization Legal Agenda. As a legal researcher and litigator, he has worked on several cases and rulings related to social groups marginalized by Lebanese society, including: workers’ rights, syndicates, housing rights (particularly regarding Syrian refugees), Palestinian refugees’ right to access professional orders, drug users’ right to undergo treatment instead of prosecution and LGBTIQ-related rights in Lebanon. In Legal Agenda’s publication, he has published several articles on socio-legal issues including cases related to Article 534 of Lebanon’s Penal Code, used to prosecute homosexuals or what is referred to in the law as “[acts] against the order of nature.”

is the curator of a new, university-wide initiative in art and human rights, led by Yale Law School, set to commence in Fall 2015. Currently a J.D. candidate at Yale Law School, he also works as a graduate curatorial researcher at Yale University Art Gallery. He holds an M.A. in English (2010) from Harvard University and a B.A. in American Studies (2006) from Columbia University. Prior to law school, he worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, where he became interested in the aesthetic possibilities of finance.

— INQUIRY: The Manufacturing of Rights
— EVENT: The Manufacturing of Rights
— PLATFORM: Notes for a future online platform

Image :
Ahmad el-Abed, a tailor. 1948-53.
This image is taken from a series by Akram Zaatari, entitled Studio Practices, taken by the Lebanese studio photographer Hashem el Madani, in Saida.
“As he was effeminate I would give him poses that I usually chose for women”, commented the photographer.
copyright : A. Zaatari and AIF/ 2006

Initiated with

  • Ashkal Alwan
  • Legal Agenda

Partners

  • Heinrich Böll Stiftung - Middle East Office
  • DICRéAM
  • Foundation for Arts Initiatives
  • French Institute of Beirut

moved to downtown Beirut in 2007, when she founded the 98weeks Research Project with her cousin, the writer and curator Mirene Arsanios. In 2009, they opened the 98weeks Project Space in Mar Mikhael, a district that was quickly absorbing an onslaught of new studios, cafés, design boutiques, bars and restaurants. Aware that they were inevitably contributing to the area’s gentrification, the Arsanioses organized a workshop in 2010, which took the history of Mar Mikhael as its subject. They dug into the many layers that make up the neighbourhood’s curious urban density, including the refugee camps – first Armenian, then Palestinian – that were repeatedly destroyed by illness, fire and war.

is an artist with a background in DIY music. His work frequently deals with the relationship between listening and politics, borders, human rights, testimony and truth through the production of documentaries, essays, audio-visual installations, video, sculpture, photography, workshops and performance. In 2015, Abu Hamdan was the Armory Show commissioned artist and was also included in the New Museum Triennial. In 2013, Abu Hamdan’s audio documentary The Freedom of Speech Itself was submitted as evidence at the UK asylum tribunal where the artist himself was called to testify as an expert witness. The artist’s forensic audio investigations are made as part of his research for Forensic Architecture, Goldsmiths College London, where he is also a PhD candidate and associate lecturer. His previous solo exhibitions have been at The Showroom, London, at Casco in Utrecht, in Beirut, in Cairo and forthcoming at Kunsthalle St Gallen and MoMa New York.

has worked extensively to protect the rights of transgender and transsexual individuals in Lebanon. As a legal researcher, she gave visibility and public debate to the 2014 ruling of a transwomen judged under Article 534 of Lebanon’s penal code, condemning an “act against Nature.” She is a practicing lawyer and a member of Legal Agenda’s board.

Maya Mikdashi is a legal anthropologist and is currently a Mellon Postdoc at Rutgers University. Her upcoming book length manuscript entitled "Sex and Sectarianism: Secularism, Secularity and War in Contemporary Lebanon," is both an archival and ethnographic study of the regulation of sexual and religious difference within secular political systems. Maya works at the intersection of legal anthropology, feminism, queer theory, and theories of sovereignty, secularism and religion. She has worked on a number of documentary film projects, and continues to edit and write for Jadaliyya, an ezine that she co-founded and that is centered on critical approaches to studying the transnational Middle East.

draws upon political history in his work in an attempt to create counter narratives that recognize suppressed histories, communities, and identities. His films Nefandus Trilogy (2013) or Deseos / رغبات from 2015 address the construction, categorization and repression of homoeroticism throughout the conquest and colonial period in the Americas. His recent database documentary Gender Talents (2015) presents video portraits of trans and intersex activists who thoughtfully perform gender as a personal, social, and political opportunity, rather than as a social condemnation.

is a member of social justice non-governmental organization Legal Agenda. As a legal researcher and litigator, he has worked on several cases and rulings related to social groups marginalized by Lebanese society, including: workers’ rights, syndicates, housing rights (particularly regarding Syrian refugees), Palestinian refugees’ right to access professional orders, drug users’ right to undergo treatment instead of prosecution and LGBTIQ-related rights in Lebanon. In Legal Agenda’s publication, he has published several articles on socio-legal issues including cases related to Article 534 of Lebanon’s Penal Code, used to prosecute homosexuals or what is referred to in the law as “[acts] against the order of nature.”

is the curator of a new, university-wide initiative in art and human rights, led by Yale Law School, set to commence in Fall 2015. Currently a J.D. candidate at Yale Law School, he also works as a graduate curatorial researcher at Yale University Art Gallery. He holds an M.A. in English (2010) from Harvard University and a B.A. in American Studies (2006) from Columbia University. Prior to law school, he worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, where he became interested in the aesthetic possibilities of finance.

— INQUIRY: The Manufacturing of Rights
— EVENT: The Manufacturing of Rights
— PLATFORM: Notes for a future online platform

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