DUBAI: The Insitut du Monde Arabe in Paris is one of the most important repositories of Arab art and culture in Europe. In its latest exhibition “Lights of Lebanon”, the institute celebrates “the amazing creativity of modern and contemporary artists from Lebanon and its diaspora”.
The exhibition is divided into three periods, which run in reverse chronological order: 2005 to today (âLebanon, a country of never-ending reconstructionâ), 1975-2005 (âThe dark yearsâ) and 1943 to 1975 (âThe golden age “).
âWhat has always made the Lebanese strongâ¦ is that the fragility of their state never prevented them from moving forward, building, even when they lived in constant danger. In short, they live in the present without obscuring their personal and collective memory, âsays Eric Delpont, IMA museum curator, in the exhibition catalog. “It seems to me that we in the West, especially in Europe, couldn’t do it because we need a feeling of security.”
Much of the works on display were donated by prolific Arab art collectors Claude and France Lemand. It was Claude who invented the title of the exhibition and declared that he viewed artists as the “lights of Lebanon“.
âAbove all, I mean those who have made Beirut the light city of the East, who have shone at all times of its tormenting history, even if over the decades the dominant clans – who only defend their interests – have plunged Lebanon into the political, economic , financial, social, health and even cultural chaos, âhe says in the catalog. “But Lebanon remains a country from which the light shines.”
Arab News presents some highlights from the exhibition, which Lemand describes as “just a drop in the bucket as far as this devastated country is concerned, but at least we have the satisfaction of having motivated and even inspired many artists”, all generations. “
“Hold on to a thread”
Assi is one of several artists from the diaspora who can be seen in the exhibition. Claude Lemand felt it was important to emphasize that the show was dedicated to âeveryone connected to the countryâ and believes that the fact that the diaspora is so widespread shows that âLebanon is not just Lebanon ; it goes far beyond the small country and its small population and resonates all over the world. “
Assi is a multidisciplinary artist currently based in London. This incredibly detailed work from 2012 is typical of her work, which – as the exhibition brochure says – âwith visual cues to eastern cities, especially Beirut, and the difficulties faced by migrants from different backgrounds – anonymous tightrope walkers who come to one to hold on to life by a silk thread â. Their fragmented cities reflect the migratory and urban violence as well as the violence in Beirut. Bundled memories, identity-based burdens and emotional baggage, she describes her forays through the cities, which are represented as a kaleidoscope of symbols and codes: graffiti on the walls, billboards, contemporary souks and luxury goods. “
Abboud is widely regarded as one of – if not the – most important modern Lebanese artists. He is best known for his paintings, some of which can be seen in the Lights of Lebanon exhibition, and especially for his richly structured abstract works, but this work is something of a curiosity. It was created in 1964 for his daughter Christine and was inspired by the picture boxes of wandering storytellers who traveled from village to village and delighted the children. âCinema Christineâ is a working model of such a box, complete with magic lamp and narrative roles.
Baalbaki’s somber dystopian image was chosen to open the show – presumably a conscious statement that Lebanon has now bottomed out (perhaps tempered with the hope that the only way up is from that point). The artist has spent much of his career exploring the numerous conflicts in the region through his art – his images of veiled fighters have proven particularly popular. This piece, created over the last five years, is less confrontational, but just as powerful.
“Al-Sayyab, the lost mother and the lost child”
The much-revered artist, writer and poet is still productive at 96 and is widely regarded as the greatest artist in Lebanon. She is best known for her colorful Impressionist landscapes, but has described her artist books (or âLeporellosâ) like this one as âparticularly importantâ parts of her portfolio. In the leporellos, inspired by Japanese folding books, Adnan complements her writing with drawings in ink and watercolor. “I avoided using traditional calligraphy, although it is wonderful to highlight my personal handwriting, which in its imperfection brings the person who writes into the work,” she says in the exhibition catalog, which further explains that Adnan’s horizontal, foldable format to “create works that can be expanded into space – ‘a liberation from text and images'”.
El-Hajj’s work is shown in the second part of the exhibition (âThe Dark Ageâ), but – as Claude Lemand explains in the catalog – her living work can be seen as her artistic career, despite the violence and destruction that surrounded her began around the time civil war broke out in the mid-1970s. âShe has seen the whole civil war and all the wars and calamities that followed; she still suffers in body and soul, but she has never painted scenes of war or destruction, âhe says. âFor them, painting is eternal; She has developed a way of thinking and a world that overcomes war and death. “