Sculptor Rudy Rahme's vision of Bcharre
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
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