Executive Magazine - - EXECUTIVE LIFE - Words by Olga Habre

art is for ev­ery­one – this sen­ti­ment seems to echo more and more across Le­banon’s art scene and is the cen­tral vi­sion of the As­so­ci­a­tion for the Pro­mo­tion and Ex­hi­bi­tion of the Arts in Le­banon (APEAL). In ad­di­tion to launch­ing plans for a free con­tem­po­rary art mu­seum, the Beirut Mu­seum of Art (BeMA), the or­ga­ni­za­tion is think­ing out­side the cap­i­tal’s bor­ders, with plans to bring art to more ne­glected ar­eas.

Dur­ing the fall of 2016, APEAL worked to­gether with the Zoukak Theatre Com­pany to en­gage an un­likely group of peo­ple – el­derly res­i­dents of Baalbek – in a com­mu­nity out­reach pro­gram that in­cluded a the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion in the town’s his­toric Ro­man tem­ple. Award-win­ning Le­banese direc­tor Roy Dib was com­mis­sioned to cre­ate a doc­u­men­tary fol­low- ing their jour­ney. Be­sides doc­u­ment­ing re­hearsals, Dib in­ter­viewed par­tic­i­pants in­di­vid­u­ally, in­quir­ing into their per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with the city and ask­ing them to show him around their fa­vorite places. The beau­ti­ful, hour-long lm, “Ser­rakSa­hel (Plain Se­cret),” is it­self a work of art. It o ers a glimpse at the hid­den gems of Baalbek, nar­rated by con­ver­sa­tions with lo­cals who know their city in­cred­i­bly well and show­ing sides of Baalbek that out­siders don’t nor­mally see. It pre­miered on March 21 at the Me­trop­o­lis Cinema So l and is now avail­able on­line.

While the ma­jor­ity of Le­banese know of the city’s grandiose Ro­man Acrop­o­lis, a UNESCO World Her­itage Site and among the most im­pres­sive Ro­man ru­ins in the world, there’s a lot more to the liv­ing, breath­ing city of Baalbek, one of Le­banon’s most

“The arts are the best in­sur­ance pol­icy a city can take on it­self.” - Woody Du­mas

leg­endary and mis­un­der­stood cities. Far from the tourist-draw­ing tem­ples, the doc­u­men­tary shows a ravine lead­ing to caves that al­legedly stretch for hun­dreds of me­ters un­der­ground, as re­vealed by pro­gram par­tic­i­pant Omar el-Solh. In to­day’s Baalbek, Ba­toul Kasem, a mid­wife with the Red Cross, takes view­ers into the Ras el-Ain pub­lic park, while Ah­mad Kassab, a long-time em­ployee of the fa­mous Palmyra Ho­tel, rem­i­nisces about the land­mark inn. Imad Mor­tada al­lows cam­eras into his pri­vate gar­den, the site of a small lo­cal re­cy­cling project, and agri­cul­tural en­gi­neer Hadi el-Misel­mani is in­ter­viewed in a lo­cal cafe he’s been fre­quent­ing since child­hood.

The lm fol­lows the process of putting to­gether a the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion with el­derly res­i­dents, who have never done any­thing like it be­fore. Par­tic­i­pants con­trib­uted to the writ­ing of the sto­ry­line and script, and per­formed it in front of a live au­di­ence all within a few days. Cre­at­ing and per­form­ing the play helped res­i­dents ex­plore their own re­la­tion­ships with the her­itage and history of their sur­round­ings, as well as with their own iden­ti­ties.

Zoukak’s Hashem Ad­nan, one of the in­struc­tors in the pro­gram, says the­ater is a par­tic­u­larly e ec­tive medium for bring­ing art to peo­ple. “It’s a liv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. This speci city of the­ater di er­en­ti­ates it from other art forms,” he says. “[The­ater] is very in­tense and brings a cer­tain kind of artis­tic, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence I don’t think you can achieve with other arts to the same ex­tent.”

The nal per­for­mance saw the am­a­teur ac­tors stand on the same stage as the leg­endary acts who have graced the Baalbek In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val. Though the fes­ti­val draws thou­sands of vis­i­tors ev­ery sum­mer – and their money – the in ux of out­siders has caused a dis­con­nect be­tween ci­ti­zens of Baalbek and their city’s fa­mous at­trac­tions.

Nada El Khoury, artis­tic vice-pres­i­dent of APEAL, ex­plains that the pro­duc­tion was timed to co­in­cide with “The Silent Echo,” a con­tem­po­rary art ex­hi­bi­tion or­ga­nized at the Tem­ple of Bac­chus by Stu­diocur/art. The rst-of-its-kind show fea­tured Le­banese and in­ter­na­tional artists, in­clud­ing one of the most ac­claimed artists of our time, China’s Ai Wei­wei. Held from Septem­ber 17 - Oc­to­ber 17, it shed light on the im­por­tance of on-site mu­se­ums, and ex­plored how mon­u­ments and ar­ti­facts be­come sym­bols of an ob­so­lete past, sub­ject to de­struc­tion, icon­o­clasm and ero­sion, rais­ing is­sues of preser­va­tion, ethics, and ques­tions of how to best pre­serve the ves­tiges of the past.

El Khoury says they chose to work with the el­derly be­cause “they are the ori­gin and the mem­o­ries [of the city], telling the sto­ries of Baalbek,” and that it made sense to run the two his­tor­i­cal projects in par­al­lel.

El Khoury says APEAL’s mis­sion is to give peo­ple from all ar­eas of Le­banon and all walks of life the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence art: “We be­lieve art is the best lan­guage.” Un­for­tu­nately in Le­banon, it’s o en a lan­guage peo­ple are afraid to learn. El Khoury agrees that even free cul­tural spa­ces can be in­tim­i­dat­ing for the gen­eral pub­lic, but that APEAL is work­ing to com­bat this feel­ing. “Art shouldn’t be in­tim­i­dat­ing. That’s why we are go­ing to peo­ple, to vil­lages, and we are telling them you shouldn’t be scared to step into a mu­seum, on the con­trary, [they should feel wel­come],” she says, adding that many mu­se­ums are shi ing their strate­gies to be­come more in­clu­sive.

The Baalbek ini­tia­tive fol­lows on the heels of APEAL’s art res­i­dency and ex­hi­bi­tion at Ras Maska, Koura, in spring 2016. This May, APEAL plans to con­tinue its mis­sion to bring art to com­mu­ni­ties around the coun­try by go­ing to Jezzine, where they will host a month-long art res­i­dency pro­gram and sev­eral cul­tural events.

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