While Lebanon continues to battle multiple lingering crises, a Lebanese entrepreneur hopes to combine art and puzzles to provide a way out and showcase talented artists from the Mena region.
After visiting Paris in November 2019, art lover Camille Saade returned to Beirut with a puzzle she had bought in a museum. She was stuck at home in the midst of major protests and road closures, with nothing else to do, and was surprised by an unexpected inspiration.
âI started doing my puzzle and that’s when the idea came to me,â she says The national. âI made a puzzle by an international, very well-known artist, but we don’t have a similar product for the Middle East, for artists from our own region. I began to research and look for how one could actually create such a project. “
That’s how she got the idea for Pazel.
âI personally enjoy solving a puzzle,â she says. âIt’s like meditation. I just empty my head and focus on the puzzle in front of me. It relieves stress and offers an opportunity to switch off a little. “
Despite an active and vibrant art scene, even established Mena artists struggle to gain recognition as they are overshadowed by their more internationally renowned counterparts from Europe and the United States, even in their own countries.
“What struck me in my own circle of friends is that if someone does not come from the arts in Lebanon and this region, they do not know our own artists,” says Saade. âYou may know Damian Hirst, but you don’t know Bibi Zogbe. I wanted to create awareness for our art and make it more accessible. “
The rapidly deteriorating situation in Lebanon initially made it a daunting challenge to get Saade’s young company off the ground. Hyperinflation and depleted foreign exchange reserves have caused the Lebanese pound to lose more than 90 percent of its total value in recent years.
Lebanon’s economy was devastated between the liquidity crisis, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the devastating explosion of the port of Beirut last year. Even so, Saade was determined to bring her project to life.
“I was very hesitant for a long time until I decided a year ago to take the risk and jump and do it,” she says. âI met Saleh Barakat, a very well known art dealer who has his own gallery in Beirut. He was interested and very enthusiastic. I worked with him to choose the artists. We selected them together. “
Pazel’s first puzzle collection includes works by a cross-generational trio of artists from the region, each with their own unique style; Nabil Nahas and Zogbe from Lebanon and Anas Albraehe from Syria.
The late Zogbe began her professional artistic career in the 1930s. Her colorful depictions of the native flora of her Lebanese homeland earned her the nickname La Pintora das Flores or The Flower Painter. Although her work has been shown in galleries and exhibitions around the world and has been awarded the Lebanese Cedar Medallion of Excellence, she remains largely unrecognized on the international stage.
Nahas, who first began exhibiting his works in 1973, is known for his use of fractal motifs and geometric patterns reminiscent of those of classical Levantine architecture and Islamic art. He remains an active force in Lebanon’s artistic scene. Albraehe, on the other hand, is a relatively young multidisciplinary artist who focuses primarily on painting and theater and who moved from Syria to Lebanon because of the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.
âI chose Nabil Nahas because he is a very well-known international artist from Lebanon,â explains Saade. âBibi Zogbe, because I wanted a Lebanese artist who is also highly recognizable [but] not a contemporary artist. Albraehe is a Syrian artist but still lives in Beirut. I personally like his job. He is relatively young but is now exhibiting in France and the USA. I think he has a very promising career.
âI produce them in limited editions in order to avoid mass production and so that the artists feel more secure and give me the reproduction rights [their works]. “
In addition to increasing the artist’s profile, part of the proceeds from Pazel’s sales will be donated to the Beirut Heritage Initiative. The independent collective is working to save and restore historic buildings that were damaged by the Beirut explosion on August 4, 2020.
âI’ve been following your work for some time. You are doing a really great job. I approached them and they loved the project, âshe says.
Spurred on by a successful launch with more than 50 puzzles sold in the first week alone, Saade hopes to continue growing her business, bringing Pazel’s products to a wider audience, and introducing them to an expanded selection of Mena art and artists.
“I’m selling [the puzzles] on site, but they’ll be available in Dubai soon and I’m talking to a store in Paris, âshe says. âI also created an e-shop with worldwide shipping so I hope it helps [us to] also sell abroad. I wasn’t expecting this result anytime soon, but Christmas is just around the corner, so I think people will think about our riddles than [gifts].
âI also want to build a more diversified portfolio,â she says. âI was surprised by the impact of this project and the feedback I got from people. It’s really positive and gives me hope. “
Updated: December 20, 2021, 6:43 am