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DUBAI: The Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris is one of the most important European repositories of Arab art and culture. In its latest exhibition, “Lights of Lebanon”, the institute “celebrates the prodigious creativity of modern and contemporary artists from Lebanon and its diasporas”.

The exhibition is divided into three periods, spreading out in reverse chronological order: 2005 to the present day (“Lebanon, a country with endless reconstructions”), 1975-2005 (“The dark years”), and 1943 to 1975 (“L’age d’Or”).

“What has always been the strength of the Lebanese… is that the fragility of their State has never prevented them from moving forward, from building, even if they lived in constant risk. In short, they live in the present, without obscuring personal and collective memory ”, specifies Eric Delpont, curator of the IMA museum, in the exhibition catalog. “It seems to me that in the West, especially in Europe, we couldn’t do this, because we need a sense of security.”

Most of the works on display were donated by prolific collectors of Arab art Claude and France Lemand. It is Claude who proposed the title of the show, explaining that he considers the artists as the “lights of Lebanon”.

“I mean above all those who have made Beirut the city of light of the East, who have shone at all times of its tormented history, even if over the decades, the dominant clans – who only defend their interests – have plunged Lebanon into political, economic, financial, social, health and even cultural chaos, ”he says in the catalog. “But Lebanon remains a country from which the light shines.”

Here, Arab News features a few highlights from the exhibit, which Lemand describes as “just a drop in the ocean, as far as this devastated country is concerned, but at least we have the satisfaction of having motivated and even inspired many. artists, of all generations.

Zena Assi

“To stand by a thread”

Assi is one of the many artists from the Diaspora featured in the exhibition. Claude Lemand considered it important to underline that the program was dedicated to “all those who have links with the country” and considers that the fact that the diaspora is so widespread shows that “Lebanon is not only Lebanon; it goes far beyond the small country and its small population and it resonates around the world.

Assi is a multidisciplinary artist currently based in London. This incredibly detailed piece from 2012 is typical of his works, which – explains the exhibition brochure – are “punctuated with visual references to cities in the East, especially Beirut, and the hardships endured by migrants from backgrounds. different – anonymous tightrope walkers clinging to life by a thread. . Its fragmented cities reflect migratory and urban violence, and violence in Beirut. Packets of memories, identity burdens and emotional baggage, she describes their wanderings in cities represented as a kaleidoscope of symbols and codes: graffiti on the walls, billboards, contemporary souks and luxury goods.

Shaffic Abboud

“Christine Cinema”

Abboud is widely regarded as one of the most important modern Lebanese artists, if not the most important. He is best known for his paintings, several of which appear in the “Lights of Lebanon” exhibition, and in particular for his richly textured abstract works, but this piece is somewhat of a curiosity. It was created in 1964 for his daughter Christine and was inspired by the picture boxes of traveling storytellers who traveled from village to village, captivating children. “Cinema Christine” is a working model of such a box, complete with a magic lamp and narrative scrolls.

Ayman Baalbaki

‘The end’

The dark, dystopian image of Baalbaki was chosen to open the show – presumably a deliberate statement that Lebanon has now bottomed out (perhaps tempered by the hope that from such a point the only way is to go up). The artist has spent much of his career exploring the many conflicts in the region through his art – his images of veiled fighters have proven to be particularly popular. This piece, created over the past five years, is less confrontational but just as powerful.

Etel Adnan

“Al-Sayyab, the lost mother and child”

The much revered artist, writer and poet is still prolific today, aged 96, and is widely regarded as Lebanon’s greatest female artist. She is best known for her colorful Impressionist landscapes, but has described her artist books (or “leporellos”) like this as “particularly important” parts of her portfolio. In leporellos, inspired by Japanese folding books, Adnan completes his writing with ink and watercolor drawings. “I avoided using traditional calligraphy, even if it is wonderful, to highlight my personal writing, which, in its very imperfection, brings the writer into the work”, she explains. in the exhibition catalog, which explains that Adnan uses the horizontal, foldable format to “create works that can be extended in space -” a liberation of text and images. ” “

Fatima El-Hajj


El-Hajj’s work is presented in the second part of the exhibition (“The Dark Age”), but – as Claude Lemand explains in the catalog – his vibrant work can be seen as a distrust of the violence and destruction that surrounded it. as she began her artistic career when the Civil War broke out in the mid-1970s. “She lived through the entire civil war and all the wars and misfortunes that followed; she still suffers in her body and in her soul, but she has never painted scenes of war or destruction, ”he says. “For her, painting is eternal; she has developed a thought and a world that transcends war and death.

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