The cultural scene in Beirut is bustling, and there are shows not to be missed. This article presents 5 must-see art shows (May 2021), as well as a list of upcoming shows (June 2021).
In Lebanon, we are at the moment between two seasons; our climate allows a gradual progression from spring to summer. In parallel, our cultural scene has come full circle; from the threat of despair and uncertainty to the glory of hope. The art scene today is in full bloom, and if you’re in Beirut right now, here are 5 must-see art shows for your enjoyment and cultural enrichment.
Chaouki Chamoun solo “Blooming Skies” Mark Hachem Gallery
The large canvases of the “Blooming Skies” collection by Lebanese artist Chaouki Chamoun fill the walls of Mark Hachem Gallery in the heart of downtown Beirut. The scale is doubly effective; the viewer is immersed in the expansion of the color-fields, and yet, small figures aligned at the bottom of the canvases give new sensation to the composition. The influence of the New York School is there, but Chamoun’s creations are uniquely his own. The collection spans the last two years (2019 – 2021) and reflect the artist’s experiences of the turbulent times Lebanon has passed through. This is most clearly illustrated in the contrasting pieces “What was I doing on August 4th/ Summer Turmoil (2020)” and “October Turmoil (2019)”. The two pieces share the same symbol: the spiral-shaped formation; and yet the former is Black and color-less (reflecting the tragedy of the August 4, 2020 blast) and the latter is colorful (reflecting the hope of the first weeks of the October 2019 revolution). The ‘turmoil’ of both is expressed in the gesturalism of the spiral shapes. Still, there are more tranquil works, like “Flocking in love with two blue birds (2020)”, which works with similar components as the other paintings, only this time communicating serenity, and allowing for a whimsical escape.
A show like “Blooming Skies” is uniquely Lebanese; it shows an instance in which an artist, mature in his style, gently explores themes relevant to the Lebanese particular, and yet also embraces the liberty of expressing novel, fanciful themes. This very special show is running until June 1, 2021; if you are in Beirut, make sure not to miss it.
Art Design Lebanon “Everyone is the Creator of One’s Own Faith” group show, Tabbal Building Achrafieh
The title of this first art exhibition for Art Design Lebanon is taken from the caption of Gaïa Fodoulian’s last Facebook post, before she was killed hours later by the tragic August 4, 2020 blast in Beirut.
“It is impossible to tell what Fodoulian had in mind when she created this post as she was killed just a few hours later. But the question of faith – what it means to have it, and more importantly, how difficult it is to live without it – is relevant today more than ever.” AD Leb
Her mother, Annie Vartivarian, a gallerist and art patron, realized the initiative Art Design Lebanon, or AD Leb, as a tribute to her daughter. The pop-up exhibition, which is currently installed in the historic Tabbal building in Achrafieh, Beirut, showcases the works of artists and designers, including Samer Bou Rjeily, Karen Chekerdjian, Hatem Imam, Sirine Fattouh, Gaïa Fodoulian, Paul Kaloustian, Nathalie Khayat, Hussein Nassereddine and Caroline Tabet. The exhibition’s scenography is designed by architects Ghaith Abi Ghanem and Jad Melki (Ghaith&Jad). There is a range of mediums for the art projects on display, including illustration, photography, neon artwork and furniture. “The exhibition questions what it means to produce and exhibit art amid the daily precariousness we face in Lebanon.” AD Leb
The Tabbal building itself is one of Beirut’s heritage buildings, dating back from the 1890s and is a work of art in its own right. The exhibition has been extended until May 29, 2021, so there are still a few more days left to visit. A few tips: You can sign up for one of the guided tours to learn more about the history of the building. You can also attend the sound installation and live performance scheduled for the closing event on the 29th at 6pm.
Louma Rabah & Semaan Khawam dual solo “Wilderness” Mojo Gallery curated by Zalfa Halabi and Lynn Modallal
For the more social art-lovers out there, do not miss the opening of Mojo Gallery, Achrafieh, Beirut, scheduled for Thursday, May 27 at 6pm. This event doubles as a gallery launch and as the opening of “Wilderness”, a dual solo exhibit for artists Louma Rabah and Semaan Khawam.
Louma and Semaan, friends and partners in artistic efforts, bring together their different artistic styles in this show. Louma “the colorist” is known for her jubilant canvases with explosions of color. Art for her is a chance to fulfil dreams, to offer an escape, and to communicate positive and joyful energies. Semaan “the birdman” creates his archetypal bird formations either in painting or in sculpture. Painting for him is a truly liberating process of self-expression. “Wilderness” can be an ‘uncultivated’, ‘uninhabited’, ‘inhospitable’, ‘neglected’ or ‘abandoned’ place. The word choice is expressive of the ambiguity of where artists find themselves in Lebanon today. And yet, in the midst of the uncertainties, a new gallery is born. The omnipresence of hope is hard to ignore.
“Wilderness” is a curatorial project by Zalfa Halabi and Lynn Modallal, the curators of the Pop Up Art Gallery; they are currently based in Beirut. Their aim in their ongoing projects is to make art accessible to the public.
Hala Mouzannar solo “La Chasse aux Papillons” Agial Art Gallery
On the bustling streets of Hamra, Beirut, the renowned Agial Art Gallery is exhibiting Hala Mouzannar in her first solo show “La Chasse aux Papillons” (Chasing Butterflies).
This is an unusual show; it would be hasty to dub the paintings as ‘abstract’. More accurately, the themes of the art show are in the art-making process itself. One encounters canvases with materials that the artist manipulated by hand, and over a long period of time. In her own words, the artist speaks about the theme of ‘pain’: “I want to show the ambivalence and the different nuances of our relationship to our pains,” she says, “when they dominate us, or inversely, when we master them.” Indeed, some of the canvases took the duration of a year for the work to be completed.
The collection (2017 – 2021) debuts a variety of textures within the same theme; some canvases are dusty or sandy, whilst others are closer to bas-reliefs in their surfaces.
The show is running until June 14, 2021. Make sure to pass by and visit.
Mojé Assefjah solo “There are Birds Here Again” Galerie Tanit
As Galerie Tanit in Mar Mikhael undergoes restoration, the gallery is now occupying a space in the Starco building in Downtown, Beirut. “There are Birds Here Again” is a solo show for Mojé Assefjah currently on display there.
The collection includes large and small egg tempera paintings on canvas, wood and paper. As the title suggests, the message of the art is hope, and the return of tranquility. Assefjah is inspired by Renaissance paintings and Japanese art. The broad strokes of paint are colorful, and lyrical in form. They seem to be demarcating a frame, inviting us to look in. Indeed, they are like windows, or openings, allowing the viewer to gaze into a different, peaceful world. There is a variety of sizes and mediums of the supporting material, appealing to different tastes.
The show is running until June 23, 2021, and is worth a visit.
Beirut is back, and she is busier than ever. The artists, gallerists and curators of this cosmopolitan city have not subsided as pressures mounted. On the contrary, they have reclaimed their spaces of action and offered the public truly enriching cultural experiences. Art is an arena of action and simultaneously a space for self-expression and self-reflection. We can tell our stories, keep alive our memories, and enshrine our experiences by creating artistic and creative projects. This is what it means to survive, to live, to thrive and to have a voice.
Be part of the local art community; pass by, see the shows, visit the upcoming events, and keep your eye out for the month of June.
Upcoming shows in June 2021:
June 9, 2021 Beirut Art Center, Jisr el Wati, Beirut, three solo exhibitions
June 11, 2021 Art on 56th Gallery, Gemmayze Beirut, “Imagined Certainty” solo show for Sara Chaar
June 11, 2021 Saleh Barakat Gallery, Hamra, Beirut, Souraya Haddad solo show in the Upper Gallery
June 18, 2021 Saleh Barakat Gallery, Hamra, Beirut, Saleh Barakat 30 years of his Career major show, in the main gallery space
June 19, 2021 Galerie Tanit, Mar Mikhael, Beirut, “Togetherness” group show
Article by Maie El-Hage
Follow Maie on Instagram @maie.art