Beirut Art Fair looks at re­gion’s his­tory

With 1,400 pieces, show high­lights work in Le­banon and the Arab world

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - ARTS & CULTURE - By Maghie Ghali

BEIRUT: The eighth edi­tion of Beirut Art Fair opened its doors yes­ter­day, host­ing 51 gal­leries from 23 coun­tries at BIEL, with sec­tions for pro­mot­ing young tal­ents and cel­e­brat­ing es­tab­lished artists.

With 1,400 works of art on show, the fair set out to high­light con­tem­po­rary art in Le­banon and the Arab world, while en­gag­ing with artists and col­lec­tors from Amer­ica, Europe and Asia.

The cen­ter­piece of this year’s fair, “Ourouba, The Eye of Le­banon,” is a 62-work ex­hi­bi­tion cu­rated by Le­banese-Ira­nian au­thor and con­tem­po­rary arts spe­cial­ist Rose Issa. The col­lec­tion looks back through 15 years of art in this re­gion, ex­plor­ing what it means to be an Arab in a re­gion as­so­ci­ated with con­flict.

“We chose Rose be­cause we wanted an ex­hi­bi­tion that we could not have in another Arab coun­try and wanted to show to the pub­lic that in Le­banon we don’t have cen­sor­ship in arts,” fair founder and di­rec­tor Laure d’Hauteville told The Daily Star. “It was also im­por­tant to show the his­tory of the Arab world for the past 15 years and it shows that the col­lec­tors are sup­port­ing and in­ter­ested in th­ese top­ics too.”

“Ourouba” is the prod­uct of Issa’s six months of field re­search, vis­it­ing 20 pub­lic and pri­vate col­lec­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Issa, each piece is linked to the his­tory of the Middle East, such as the nos­tal­gic pic­nic scene in Syr­ian painter Ziad Dal­loul’s “Cel­e­bra­tion of the Ab­sent,” 2013, a scene now im­pos­si­ble due to the Syr­ian con­flict.

“Ourouba means ‘Ara­bic­ity’ and to what ex­tent it re­flects the con­cerns and so­ciopo­lit­i­cal is­sues of our re­gion. I think the se­lec­tion here rep­re­sents the works pro­duced in the last years, which peo­ple called the Arab Spring,” Issa told The Daily Star. “I called it the slightly or­ches­trated de­struc­tion of the en­tire re­gion but I wanted to know how th­ese re­bel­lions and demon­stra­tions that peo­ple went into whole-heart­edly turned into to­tal ab­di­ca­tion of our cul­ture.

“I called it ‘The Eye of Le­banon’ be­cause it re­flects what the col­lec­tors have been in­vest­ing in and [I] was sur­prised to find that they are very flex­i­ble in what they col­lect,” she said. “Moroc­can col­lec­tors will only col­lect Moroc­cans’ art. Here they col­lect every­thing and Beirut al­most be­came a fo­cal point for all artists in the re­gion.”

The ex­hib­ited works are var­ied, with paint­ings, pho­tos, sculp­tures and in­stal­la­tions of all sizes, high­light­ing vastly dif­fer­ent top­ics.

One piece by Pales­tinian-Le­banese con­tem­po­rary artist Mona Ha­toum, “Door mat,” 1996, is a black wel­come mat made en­tirely of nails – an al­lu­sion to how refugees are wel­comed in but have no rights.

Le­banese artist Ay­man Baal­baki’s work is more ret­ro­spec­tive, look­ing back through his ex­pe­ri­ence of Le­banon’s Civil War and the marks it has left on the coun­try.

“He was born with the war and lived in sev­eral houses, mov­ing around all the time,” Issa ex­plained. “He has done dozens of pic­tures of build­ings in Le­banon that were de­stroyed, pre­serv­ing mem­o­ries of what he’s lived for 30 years.”

Baal­baki has three paint­ings in “Ourouba,” taken from the pri­vate col­lec­tion of Agial Gallery, in­clud­ing “Barakat Build­ing,” 2015, which de­picts the bul­let-rid­dled yel­low villa re­cently re­branded as “Beit Beirut.”

“This one is of the Middle East Air­lines flights that were shot down in 1986 and 1988,” Baal­baki said re­fer­ring to “MEA,” 2014. “My tech­nique and the style ... are sim­i­lar to Jack­son Pol­lock but I also was in­flu­enced by the work pro­duced in Ger­many af­ter World War II.”

Other fair high­lights in­clude an ex­hi­bi­tion com­pris­ing il­lus­tra­tions from Gi­bran Khalil Gi­bran’s “The Prophet” along­side new il­lus­tra­tions by Rachid Ko­raichi and “Food Art” spon­sored by Bankmed. There will be roundtable dis­cus­sions, book sign­ings, Beirut Art Week’s in­stal­la­tion tour and the By­b­los Bank Pho­tog­ra­phy Awards.

Another sub­sec­tion of the fair is “Re­veal­ing by SGBL,” a plat­form show­cas­ing 26 emerg­ing artists, which was in­tro­duced in 2016 and ex­panded this year.

“Each se­lected gallery will show­case one artist of promis­ing ta­lent,” d’Hauteville said, “of­fer­ing ac­cess for col­lec­tors and pro­mot­ing the cre­ation of pro­fes­sional con­tacts among the var­i­ous ac­tors present at the fair.”

Mo­hamed Mon­aiseer from Cairo’s Mashra­bia Gallery brought a se­lec­tion from his on­go­ing se­ries, “Dic­tionary,” which con­tains 280 works so far. “I started [in] 2013 and I was look­ing into para­psy­chol­ogy, the five senses, alchemy – when they tried to turn things into gold – and the line be­tween life and death,” Mon­aiseer told The Daily Star. “The pieces are vis­ual and are sim­i­lar to an en­cy­clo­pe­dia. I wanted them to look old and treated my can­vas to look like parch­ment.”

Rem­i­nis­cent of an­cient manuscripts or sci­en­tific charts, th­ese small A5-sized pieces work with scrawled writ­ing and painted di­a­grams and il­lus­tra­tions.

The artist says the se­ries ex­plores whether “lan­guage and writ­ing has mean­ing or not. All my pieces have writ­ing but you can’t ac­tu­ally read it. I com­mu­ni­cate through forms evoca­tive of writ­ten lan­guage but [emp­tied] of lit­eral mean­ing.”

BAF is run­ning till Sept. 24 at BIEL Hall 2. For more, see

Ay­man Baal­baki’s “Barakat Build­ing,” 2015.

Rachid Ko­raichi’s “Le Prophete – Du mariage,” 2016.

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