Sculp­tor Rudy Rahme's vi­sion of Bcharre

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENTS - Mehrnoush Shafiei

Artist Rudy Rahme draws on Le­banon’s rich cul­tural her­itage and the na­ture sur­round­ing his home­town of Bcharre to spark his cre­ative im­pulses

If work is love made vis­i­ble, as Kahlil Gibran fa­mously wrote in “The Prophet,” then artist Rudy Rahme’s colos­sal sculp­tures in the heart of the fa­bled Le­banese cedars are a clear la­bor of love and a pow­er­ful ges­ture of his pa­tri­o­tism. Crafted en­tirely from dead wood, the grand­est piece – dubbed La Mar­tine Cedar (or Holy Trinity) – mea­sures 39m in height, mak­ing it one of the largest of its kind in the world. A closer look re­veals the face of Je­sus del­i­cately sculpted into the tree. A jaw-drop­per by any mea­sure, the site-spe­cific in­stal­la­tion took six years for Rahme to com­plete. “Peo­ple are used to see­ing art di­rectly in front of them, I wanted to force peo­ple to look up – the sculp­tures have a more shock­ing im­pact when viewed in the di­rec­tion of the sky,” he says.

A vivid, im­pres­sion­is­tic sense of phys­i­cal­ity is his sig­na­ture style and he achieves it us­ing el­e­men­tary tools: var­i­ous sizes of chisel, rope and scaf­fold. Like Gibran, Rahme is a na­tive of the north­ern Le­banon vil­lage Bcharre, the life and work of Le­banon’s pre­em­i­nent poet has had pro­found res­o­nance for Rahme. In fact, he is the sec­re­tary of the Kahlil Gibran com­mit­tee for cul­ture and ac­tively par­tic­i­pates in in­creas­ing the ex­po­sure of the iconic Le­banese poet. In ad­di­tion to be­ing a sculp­tor, Rahme is him­self a poet and a painter.

Pos­sessed by a youth­ful ex­cite­ment that be­lies his 47 years, Rahme’s pas­sion for cre­at­ing work that springs from the land is pal­pa­ble. “There is no place like Bcharre and the Qadisha val­ley, there is a still­ness and sense of calm that I carry over to my work,” he says. Tout­ing the restora­tive na­ture of the beau­ti­ful land­scape – op­er­atic moun­tains and vast green­ery – Rahme says that “the land has been touched by the di­vine.” In­deed, some of the ear­li­est Chris­tian monas­tic set­tle­ments can be found in the Qadisha Val­ley, am­ple in­spi­ra­tion for Rahme to draw on to fuel his more re­li­gious works.

Though his stu­dio is lo­cated near Jounieh, Rahme spends much of his time in the moun­tains of Bcharre. And while some art works are de­fin­i­tive of their mo­ment, Rahme aims to tran­scend time. Re­flec­tive of his philo­soph­i­cal na­ture, he looks upon the cre­ative process as a con­tin­u­ous state that merges past, present and fu­ture. “I am not just cre­at­ing for the present, but also for the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions; it is th­ese two forces in ad­di­tion to the con­cept of space that com­pel me to cre­ate.” His work is also rooted in his­tor­i­cal de­tail. “I en­vi­sion my sculp­tures as putting a mark on the cul­tural record of our coun­try.” In­deed, rather than merely cre­ate art for art’s sake, there is a strong so­cial di­men­sion to his works which of­ten de­pict na­tional sym­bols or past ti­tans of Le­banese cul­ture like the late poet Said Akl, for who he cre­ated a cus­tom-made cof­fin when the 102-year old passed away back in Novem­ber 2014. “Art is con­nected to the ed­u­ca­tion of his­tory, to our ar­chi­tec­ture, our al­pha­bet, to our col­lec­tive mem­ory, es­pe­cially for the younger gen­er­a­tion,” he says.

There is no place like Bcharre and the Qadisha val­ley, there is a still­ness and sense of calm that I carry over to

my work

When he him­self was a child, he learned much about his coun­try through lit­er­a­ture and paint­ing. For­tu­nate to grow up in a cul­tured house­hold, Rahme had the sup­port of his fam­ily when he went off to Florence to train and work as an artist. “It’s in­ter­est­ing, when you are in Le­banon the coun­try seems very small. The fur­ther you go away, the big­ger it be­comes.” What the coun­try stood for cap­tured his imag­i­na­tion and his art, whether its paint­ings, sculp­ture or po­etry, has al­ways cir­cled back to the un­der­ly­ing theme of the coun­try’s her­itage.

In the life­cy­cle of many Le­banese artists there is of­ten a mo­ment where they are forced to make a cal­cu­la­tion of whether to stay or leave their coun­try, and while Rahme has trav­eled ex­ten­sively he al­ways knows his place is right here. “I be­lieve you have to give back to your coun­try. I live for Le­banon.” When prompted to of­fer his fa­vorite pas­sage from “The Prophet”, he says: “You give but lit­tle when you give of your pos­ses­sions. It is when you give of your­self that you truly give.”

I be­lieve you have to give back to

your coun­try. I live for Le­banon

Photo cour­tesy of Ziad Rahme

Photo cour­tesy of Ziad Rahme

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