ART OF THE LANDS
Lebanese artist Jamil Molaeb’s artwork is ingrained in the local traditions and nature of his hometown of Baissour. He speaks to LT about returning to his roots and creating a cultural movement from his museum
Lebanese ar tist Jamil Molaeb sits in a Hamra café dr inking cof fee. The painter and sculptor’s hometown of Baissour has a large presence in his life, but cof fee and conversation in the cafés of Beirut is also par t of his daily routine. “This used to be the legendar y Horseshoe Café,” Molaeb says, wearing his character istic flat cap. “I’ve been coming here for years. It’s where we sit, share ideas and discuss in the ar tistic community.” Molaeb has been an active par t of Lebanon’s ar ts scene for decades. He won the 3rd pr ize for sculpture in 1967 at the 7th Salon of the Sursock Museum and received a distinction in painting at the 18th Salon almost three decades later in 1995. He’s also spent much of his career as an ar t educator teaching the next generation of ar tists in Lebanon at the Lebanese American University. Molaeb’s work is not limited to one style; his paintings range from br ightly colored minimalist compositions to folklor ic scenes that show the traditions of village life. “I don’t like to repeat my tradition, but at the same time I can’t forget my tradition, because my body is tradition, my blood is tradition,” Molaeb says.
Despite the local customs that Molaeb’s paintings of ten represent, he is ever y bit the modernist. He is a master of color; his wide palettes, touched by the sun, are partly taken from his previous travels. Af ter training under renowned Lebanese artists such as Chafic Abboud and Paul Guiragossian at the Fine Arts Institute of the Lebanese University, he spent a year in Algeria before enrolling in the Master of Fine Arts program in 1984 at New York’s Pratt Institute, and he later obtained a doctorate in artistic education from Ohio State University. His travels took him through the Middle East, Europe and Asia and he has exhibited all over the world, and in Galer ie Janine Rubeiz in Beirut. “I lived all my life in Baissour, but, I did a lot of traveling,” Molaeb says. “Like any other artist, I needed to develop myself. In Algeria I became myself. I saw beautiful colors, beautiful women, landscapes and houses – every time I travelled somewhere I collected many experiences. When I came back to Baissour this transferred into my art.”
At Molaeb’s home in Baissour, the nature that has a constant presence in his artwork, surrounds. The space outside his home is lined with his sculptures and mosaics. The view looks out over Barouk and Mount Sannine – a stretch of rich green land that dips into a valley between. Inside, Molaeb settles in the front room for cof fee where he was drawing birds earlier in the morning. “I respect ever ything in nature. My responsibility is to leave this nature clean. To leave this beauty and to copy it in my work so others can see what can be made from this beautiful nature,” he says. “I am in a relationship with reality. I would like to transfer this reality in my way without losing the feeling of modernity. What is better than to be in a relationship with the apple that you pick directly from the tree? Maybe I am tr ying to be nature, to be myself, to create from ever yday life but in a new vision.” Two years ago Molaeb created the Jamil Molaeb Museum, adjacent to his home. It’s an impressive structure, built in local stone and created with the help of architect George Arbid. “My museum is not separated from my work and my sculptures. There is this relationship between my house and the landscape, the valley, Sannine,” he says. The museum is an impressive feat; three floors exhibit a huge collection of his paintings and large windows look out on the very lands that he reflects. The ground floor is dedicated to paintings that show scenes of daily life in the area – harvesting in the fields, collecting water from the local spring and a local bridal shower. The first floor features a collection of his sculptures and wood cuts and the top floor features his more minimalist pieces – bright strips of blue show endless horizons where sea and sky meet.
“Bringing people to the museum makes some kind of cultural movement to remind people what we can do ourselves if we come back to our village,” Molaeb says. “Instead of going to the city I will bring the city to my village. I am trying to come back to my childhood when I had a relationship with the earth and also live my modern life.” Besides being an exhibition space the museum also features a stage to house cultural events such as poetr y readings, theater performances, concerts and film screenings. In August they held the Molaeb Festival for Chamber Music and Fine Arts, a successful two-day event that hosted eight musicians from around the world performing classical music concerts. Molaeb is doing more than reflecting the life and nature of his hometown through his paintings – he is bringing life to the area and creating a cultural hub.
Region through an Artist’s Eyes
Photos: Thierr y Van Biesen