Dar El-Nimer

A cul­ture of in­clu­sion

Executive Magazine - - Contents - Words by Olga Habre

art can be ther­a­peu­tic, cathar­tic, heal­ing. In its wide spec­trum of ex­pres­sions, it is of­ten re­garded as a cop­ing mech­a­nism that in­spires in­di­vid­u­als and unites com­mu­ni­ties. But some crit­i­cize the con­tem­po­rary art world, with its pris­tine gal­leries, high prices, and elite cliques, for be­ing pre­ten­tious and dis­tant from the pub­lic. In Le­banon, we are lucky that most art spa­ces of­fer free en­try. For those who are un­fa­mil­iar with this sphere, how­ever—those who come from un­der­priv­i­leged back­grounds, don’t speak the lan­guages of the art world, or even know where to go to see it—art and cul­tural spa­ces aren’t al­ways invit­ing. A vi­brant cul­tural space in the heart of Beirut, Dar El-Nimer for Arts and Cul­ture, is not only of­fer­ing beau­ti­ful, var­ied ex­hi­bi­tions and events, but also a vi­tal sense of in­clu­sion—es­pe­cially for Pales­tini­ans, one of Le­banon’s most marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties. It cel­e­brates the re­gion’s rich and com­plex her­itage, with a spe­cial fo­cus on Pales­tinian cul­ture, which, along with its iden­tity, is con­stantly fac­ing era­sure and dis­tor­tion. Since its launch, Dar El-Nimer has de­vel­oped a solid rep­u­ta­tion for its in­ter­ac­tive and ac­ces­si­ble spirit, which is ap­par­ent both in its qual­ity ex­hi­bi­tions and fre­quent, en­gag­ing event of­fer­ings, such as

“In the end, our so­ci­ety will be de­fined not only by what we cre­ate, but what we refuse to de­stroy.” – John Sawhill

lm screen­ings, work­shops, per­for­mances, talks, and tours. En­trance is free, as are most events, ex­cept for some work­shops that need to cover the cost of ma­te­ri­als. Of­fi­cially opened in May 01 , it is the brain­child of Rami El-Nimer, a banker and pa­tron of the arts whose fam­ily hails from Pales­tine. Over the past 40 years, El-Nimer has amassed a grow­ing col­lec­tion of Is­lamic, Chris­tian, and ori­en­tal­ist pieces that span about 10 cen­turies of civ­i­liza­tion. These in­clude manuscripts, coins, ce­ram­ics, tex­tiles, wood­work with mother-of-pearl in­lay, and metal work, as well as mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary Pales­tinian art, all se­lected for their aes­thetic and his­toric value. Its launch ex­hi­bi­tion, “At the Seams,” was a mov­ing dis­play of Pales­tinian cra sman­ship and the po­lit­i­cal his­tory be­hind tra­di­tional em­broi­dery—the rst satel­lite ex­hi­bi­tion from the Pales­tinian Mu­seum in Birzeit. Shar­ing Pales­tinian cul­ture with its own com­mu­nity and the rest of the coun­try is a big part of the in­de­pen­dent non­pro t art foun­da­tion’s mis­sion. Though the space ex­hibits works by artists of all na­tion­al­i­ties, its de­but ex­hi­bi­tion was pur­posely Pales­tinian. Dar El-Nimer’s Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Rasha Salah says, “[We want] to break the clichés around Pales­tine in Le­banon, to show that there’s many faces of Pales­tini­ans. … Pales­tine has its cul­ture, his­tory, her­itage, and it’s im­por­tant to show it re­gard­less of what­ever is hap­pen­ing po­lit­i­cally.” In fall 01 , Dar El-Nimer show­cased art­works as part of Qa­landiya In­ter­na­tional III, the Pales­tinian bi­en­nale that was held in­ter­na­tion­ally for the rst time that year, across 1 art foun­da­tions in four coun­tries. The artis­tic pro­gram was built around the theme of re­turn, and sought to re­store Pales­tini­ans’ re­la­tion­ship with their nat­u­ral sur­round­ings through its fo­cus on the sea. Since then, other re­gional and Pales­tinian artists have showed their work at the space. As part of its mis­sion, ev­ery year, Dar El-Nimer aims to fea­ture the­matic ex­hi­bi­tions from its own col­lec­tion. The rst ex­hi­bi­tion from the col­lec­tion, held from April to Oc­to­ber 01 , was ti­tled “Mi­dad: The Pub­lic and In­ti­mate Lives of Ara­bic Cal­lig­ra­phy,” and in­cluded over pieces of cal­lig­ra­phy dat­ing as far back as the 8th cen­tury, along with newly com­mis­sioned pieces. For 018, an ex­hi­bi­tion mark­ing the 0th an­niver­sary of the Nakba is set to present doc­u­ments and archives of Pales­tine, cu­rated by Pales­tinian artist and cu­ra­tor Jack Persekian. This year, the ex­hi­bi­tion “Key­word: Pales­tine” runs through Fe­bru­ary, fol­lowed by an auc­tion of the pieces, the prof­its of which will go to the In­sti­tute for Pales­tinian Stud­ies. Other high­lights for the com­ing months in­clude an ex­hi­bi­tion by the renowned Lon­don-based Pales­tinian con­tem­po­rary artist Larissa San­sour, a ret­ro­spec­tive of the late Toufic Ab­dul Al, and an ex­hi­bi­tion by a sur­prise in­ter­na­tional pho­tog­ra­pher. In ad­di­tion to be­ing a cul­tural hub, Dar El-Nimer fo­cuses on re­search, di­a­logue, and in­tel­lec­tual en­gage­ment, with a keen em­pha­sis on draw­ing in an eclec­tic mix of vis­i­tors, es­pe­cially from Pales­tinian com­mu­ni­ties. As part of its out­reach pro­gram, Dar El-Nimer in­vites stu­dents from pub­lic, pri­vate, and UNRWA schools, uni­ver­si­ties, as well as schol­ars and any­one else who is in­ter­ested in its var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties. The qual­ity of works shown may be on par with other re­spected cul­tural spa­ces in Le­banon, but the spe­cial at­ten­tion to­ward cre­at­ing a wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment makes all the dif­fer­ence for those that aren’t nor­mally in­vited to the art world. “We show an amaz­ing, pres­ti­gious ex­hi­bi­tion like Mi­dad, but also in­vite a dance troupe from Ain Al-Hil­weh [a Pales­tinian refugee camp] to per­form, and [the me­dia talks] about them. They feel in­volved and re­spected. … They feel they are part of this space. It’s not in­tim­i­dat­ing; it is ac­ces­si­ble,” says Salah. She says that all as­pects of the space are aimed at in­clu­sion. The copy­writ­ing, in both Ara­bic and English, at­tempts to stay clear, so that it can be un­der­stood by any­one and not a se­lect elite. “Just putting big words [in the copy] that some peo­ple don’t un­der­stand ... for me this is as if I’m al­ready ex­clud­ing a big part of the so­ci­ety around me,” she says. Dar El-Nimer’s web­site says it hosts artists and oth­ers whose work is “en­gag­ing with the chal­leng­ing so­cial re­al­i­ties and po­lit­i­cal cur­rents shap­ing the re­gion,” and in their own deal­ings, they truly prac­tice what they preach. “For us, art should have a mes­sage. It should open minds and pro­voke ques­tions and dis­cus­sions,” says Salah. That mes­sage isn’t just in the pieces them­selves, but in the cen­ter’s abil­ity to share art with a wider au­di­ence, not ne­glect­ing those who can ben­e­fit tremen­dously from a broader out­look and a beau­ti­ful sense of be­long­ing.

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