Lebanon Traveler - - FRONT PAGE - Jamil Molaeb Mu­seum 03 622892, Bais­sour

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

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