This is a brief account of what happened in June 2019 in Prague around the Student Exhibition for clarity and documentation:
1. I curated in 2015 the participation of Lebanon in the Prague Quadrennial, a massive theatre exhibition that happens in the Czech Republic every 4 years. The Quadrennial has been taking place since 1967, and it gathered, in 2015, 180,000 visitors and 150 exhibitions from 67 countries.
2. As one of the projects of 2015 was about costume, I reached out to Hans Harling, and, together, we worked on three submissions that would be showcased in Prague. Hans was magnificent in Prague, delivered, performed, and networked. It was a pleasure collaborating together. After the exhibition, Hans was invited to perform in a festival in Macedonia and his pictures were part of a published book. Hans often expressed his gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to participate.
3. Early 2019, Hans calls me saying that he’d be going to Prague for the exhibition in June 2019 “for holidays and to network”. I suggest that even though the artistic director of the Quadrennial didn’t plan a costume-based project similar to that of 2015, he could design a part of the Lebanese exhibition, so he gets better access to other exhibiting designers and performers, which would optimize his networking. Hans got excited about the idea, and I told him I would cover the production expenses while he would handle his personal expenses (international transport, accommodation, etc). I added that I was reaching out for sponsors, and if money comes, I would fund his whole trip, like in 2015.
4. A few days later, Hans told me that Sasha would be going with him to Prague. She was excited about Prague, and wanted to visit during the Quadrennial. I welcomed the idea as I had the pleasure to collaborate with Sasha on various occasions. She is a woman who strives for excellence, and I often exchanged with her messages and voice notes of support and encouragement. During a specific period of time when Hans and Sasha were not in contact, I used to urge Hans to make up with Sasha, as they have the ability to do great things especially when they work together.
5. Hans also said that H***d, another friend of his and Sasha, reached out and asked to be part of the project in Prague, but Hans declined as he wanted to avoid “trouble”, and to avoid a situation in which their “friend H***d would overstay her legal visa time in Europe”.
6. Hans, Sasha and I met over dinner, and I explained to Sasha what the project was about. The evening went great and we spoke about many other things. I set up a WhatsApp group for the three of us, and I told them many times that Hans was the main contact as he’s already attended the Quadrennial.
7. Even though several sponsors where approached, the Quadrennial was getting closer, and funding didn’t seem to exist anytime soon. I told Sasha and Hans that I booked an apartment next to the exhibition space in Prague that can fit 4 people, and that they were welcome to stay with me for free if they wished to, without having to share the rent expenses. Hans said he needed to speak to Sasha about this. He’d answer me the next day that they will take their own apartment as they need their privacy.
8. As the date was moving closer, I asked them many times about their ticket and accommodation. Most meetings happened with Hans and I, as Sasha would have other commitments or would be delayed. Hans always said he’d rely the info to Sasha, and the three of us were WhatsApping all the time.
9. I regularly asked Hans if they secured their tickets and accommodation in Prague, and he said, everytime, “yes, all is set”. Hans even sent me a screenshot of his tickets and those of Sasha.
10. I asked Sasha and Hans to purchase exhibition equipment for 180,000 LBP ($120) and to take with them to Prague the exhibition material as an extra luggage that I would be reimbursing in Prague as per initial agreement.
11. A few hours before they took off in the night of June 2-3, Sasha sent me a WhatsApp message: “Hey hadi, can we stay over tonight when we arrive? Only one night.” I answer “Sure”.
12. Sasha and Hans arrived to the apartment on June 3. They showered, prepared themselves, dressed up, and went downtown for dinner. It was a difficult night, as both Sasha and Hans were tired and overwhelmed with all they were seeing. They were also having difficulty walking on high heels on the cobblestones. They spent most of the night on WhatsApp, and all conversations between them were in Armenian, despite the fact I asked them many times to use a language I understand. All restaurants we visited were closed and it took us a while to find a dinner place. I eventually enjoyed treating them to a pleasant dinner.
13. The next day, the apartment owner was passing by at 8:40 am for cleaning purpose. I had asked and urged Sasha and Hans to hurry up so we leave the apartment before the lady arrives, as I had told her that I will be staying in the apartment by myself after Sasha and Hans declined to stay in the apartment with me. However, the lady would arrive on time and find three people in the apartment. With glitter and feather spread all over the tables and the floor, the lady asked me why I hadn’t told her that we would be 3 people and not 1 person in the house. In return, she charged me an additional amount of 100 euros for the night (50€/additional person/night). Hans was staying in Prague from June 3 to 19, and Sasha from June 3 to 16, which would amount to about an additional sum of €1,500.
14. We eventually left the apartment and let the lady clean up. On the way to grab morning coffee, I asked Hans and Sasha “Have you ever booked an accommodation in Prague?” Hans answered “No”.
15. After coffee, I told Sasha and Hans that I couldn’t understand why they had to withhold information from me, and not tell me the truth. I had alway been extremely supportive, kind and generous with them, and their behavior was odd. June is a high-season, accommodation is booked, and the Quadrennial alone hosts more than 180,000 visitors. That was a last-minute challenge we had to sort out, while setting up two exhibitions. I was disappointed as per why I was lied to. None of them answered me and they remained silent.
16. That day, heat and humidity were scorching. Hans and Sasha called other participants from Lebanon to stay over with them, but nobody had capacity. I told them that I would speak the next day to the house owner, telling her that I paid for an apartment that fits four people, and that Sasha and Hans must be able to stay at no extra cost. With the city overbooked and the house owner speaking a very limited English, I told them this would take about two days because of the back and forth with the house owner.
17. I shared with Hans and Sasha a series of accommodation links from booking.com and Airbnb. They rejected the affordable places on Airbnb because they weren’t close to the city, and they didn’t want to be in hostels. Hans and Sasha eventually found a hotel June 4, and paid a three-night deposit, which would be more than enough time for me to reach a deal with the house owner.
18. The next day, Tuesday, June 5, was the exhibition opening night. I called Sasha and Hans in the morning to check on them, with no answer. I also called the house owner who “agreed to consider it and wanted to discuss the matter with her partner. She said she felt deception that I confirmed one person, yet 3 people occupied the house”. I also prepared the reimbursement money in local currency (covering the 120$ purchased exhibition material, the extra-luggage cost for the Beirut-Prague trip and for the Prague-Beirut return trip, and the airport taxi pick-up and drop-off). I called Hans and Sasha several times that day to meet them, check on them and pay them, but with no answer. When I got Hans on the phone, he told me that his fat burner allergy was making him very itchy, and that he was spending his time in the shower. He also told me that the hotel was requesting more payment, and that he’s having issues with the shop owner in Beirut as his rent payment is long due. He added that he was dealing with a lot of nagging and bad energy and shared with me other matters that I will not report here in order not to add drama. I asked Hans to pass on Sasha but he said she was on the phone trying to sort things out.
19. A few minutes later, Sasha stormed out on the WhatsApp group and exited it. I promptly called her to reason, meet her and share the updates, but she yelled, refused to let me talk, informed me that she would dismantle her exhibition and go home, then hanged up. I called Hans’ number, and Sasha answered the call herself and did the same thing. All my next calls remained unanswered.
20. I informed the exhibition organizers that Hans and Sasha would remove their material. We informed the security officers of the exhibition not to interfere and to let them proceed. During the opening reception, Sasha and Hans came to the exhibition, dismantled it, and took pictures with people Has had met in 2015.
21. I texted Hans, telling him “Hans, you have to answer me if you want to solve this”. No reply from him. I wrote him a few hours later “Send me your bank account details to transfer the money to you. I also spoke to my lawyer telling her that I can’t communicate with either you or with Sasha because you are not answering me. She offered to secure contact as long as you are blocking communication.” My message remains unanswered.
22. I also texted Sasha the following message, with no reply from her:
I asked you in Beirut: Do you want to stay with me in the apartment? You said no.
I asked Hans many times: Did you book an accommodation? He said “It is done”.
You text me a few hours before you take the plane asking to stay with me for one night. I said yes sure.
The next day when the house owner comes and argues why there are many people in the house, Hans tells me that you have no reservation.
I’ve been texting you all day to suggest alternatives and you didn’t pick up the phone.
How can I help you when you withhold information from me and then don’t reply and hang up during the conversation?
This is June. Prague is all booked. Plus 70,000 people came for the exhibition. It is simply overbooked.
I called you today to reimburse you production expenses as agreed since day 1, and you didn’t answer.
I am calling you for apartment solutions and you are still yelling.
23. We were left with an exhibition without content. We reverberated with Omar and Giorgio on what happened, and launched another exhibition that builds on the disappearing content.
24. Sasha and Hans remained in Prague for a few days. Sasha told members of the Lebanese team not to inform me whether she and Hans were still in Prague or not. She also said “I can destroy Hadi with one social media post”.
25. The house owner called me the next day: she had agreed that Hans and Sasha stay for free. But they were already gone.
26. A few days later, I received an email about an open call for a Trans* fellowship in Geneva. As a token of good will, and wishing to express that I do not wish to mix things up, I forwarded the email to Sasha (with a copy to Hans), offering her support and endorsement should she wanted it. - Again, no reply.
27. I sent Hans the link of L’Orient-Le Jour article when it was published on Saturday, June 15. No reply from him.
28. As a token of appreciation and support for all artists and institutions that did the effort to work on the exhibition, I added the logos of everyone to the website footer. The logo of “Moonstone Design House”, Hans’s business, had already been added to the page of Lebanon on the PQ website as agreed, appreciated and welcomed by Hans.
* * * * *
1. I’ve been on the Quadriennal since 2011. Hans participated in 2015 and knew what it is about. This is why he wished to attend in 2019. I’ve always had a smooth collaboration with Hans, whose work I greatly respect. Hans was also part of the Lebanese delegation to another event I curated in 2017 in Abidjan. He participated in a project called “Giant Puppets”. Back then, Hans joined a binôme of puppeteers, but had several arguments with them. I eventually sided with Hans because he had more free time than the other two persons and because I wanted to support him and honor his commitment to the project. Hans formed a new team with Mostafa D*****k and three young ladies. Challenged by the workgroup, Hans also fought with the young ladies, and they eventually were unable to deliver their performance in Abidjan. Yet, I considered this only an unfortunate episode, and I refused to give it more importance than what it was about. The project didn’t succeed, and it didn’t mean to me that Hans can’t deliver. There was another battle I fought on this project: Hans and Mostafa were in drag in a very challenging environment, yet, I never ever asked them to refrain from doing what they wished to, and I handled the several issues that arose from their behavior. Throughout the years, I’ve confided in Hans about other personal issues, but today I am disappointed with his behavior.
2. Hans and Sasha approached me saying that they will be in Prague for holiday. When they wanted to be pat of the design, we agreed that no matter what, I will cover the production fees and the visa fees. Pursuant to their excitement, I upgraded their accreditation (to a co-curator status) for them to benefit to the maximum from all possible opportunities. The agreement was that Hans and Sasha be present during the set up to supervise the set up of their work, and then have a two-hour workshop during 5 days at the Student Section. During a maximum of 10 hours, they’d create a headpiece for visitors to interact with them, and conclude the workshop with a costume performance. They were not requested to have a full day presence at the exhibition like all other country exhibitors. All their remaining time was free, for their pleasure, holiday and networking. It was never a matter of hiring them for the project. Nobody has been hired or paid since 2011 on this projects. Curators, designers and performers in the Quadriennal are not paid.
3. Hans and Sasha withheld the truth from me. Hans said he got an accommodation, while in reality there was none. The issue was never about money, as there was no accommodation available at the last minute that both Hans and Sasha agreed to accept.
4. I offered Sasha and Hans the possibility to expand their performing talent beyond what they do in Lebanon, by introducing them to an international event, and by providing them with an accreditation for full access. A massive opportunity of work, contacts and projects that they missed. However, the exhibition continued very well, our participation remained unchallenged, and more than twenty people from Lebanon participated in the event. All of us covering our own expenses, with me, as curator and producer, personally covering production expenses.
5. The presence of Hans and Sasha on the Quadriennal was never about the LGBT or Beirut Pride, otherwise communication would have transited via the channels of Beirut Pride and other LGBT channels. There is an unfortunate intention to mix things up and to invent realities that never existed, which I condemn.
6. In order to contain a prospective defamation campaign that would spread fake and incorrect information, and in order to clarify the situation, I already reached out to all the partners of this project with a detailed account of the situation, with a copy to the lawyer. Pulling out of the exhibition and badmouthing the event, the city of Prague and me is unacceptable, and could necessitate answering questions by the embassy that granted the visas, especially when the issue arises from withholding information, which might hinder the success of future visa applications.
7. As for me, I remember an advice a friend of mine told me: always work with people who have a good education, at least they will never hit low levels in behavior and answers. I learnt from this episode not to work with people who are not transparent, who have undeclared substance issues, and who use five insults in a sentence of seven words. The negative energy is counterproductive. Finally, work with people who are conscious of time and responsibilities.
8. I have no animosity toward Sasha and Hans, whose perseverance is remarkable. Even in defamation.
Prague, June 2019