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'Beirut Past and Present': destruction and reconstruction

A seven-artist multimedia exhibition

Published on 11 February 2011

Author(s): The Daily Star/Chirine Lahoud

Type:  News

The objective of this exhibition is to reveal the city’s identity and to show spectators the city from locals’ points of view

Beirut is known as a city in constant reconstruction. Tradition mingles with modernity, gorgeous old houses are torn down, and the city’s cultural heritage can get lost in its transformation.

“Beirut Past and Present,” the seven-artist multimedia exhibition nowadays up at Art Lounge, sheds light on their perceptions and recollections of this changing cityscape. The objective of this exhibition is to reveal the city’s identity and to show spectators the city from locals’ points of view, mixing various types of art works such as paintings, photography and digital arts.

The exhibition is supported by ASILE (Artists Support and Impulse to the Levant Heritage), an association whose main goal is to support artistic creation in the Middle East and to preserve Lebanese, Jordanian and Syrian cultural heritage. “Mirror, Mirror” (2010), by art director and photographer Marie Saliba, focuses on taxi drivers, more specifically the taxis’ mirrors. Saliba’s 10 photographs, varying in size, bear witness to taxi drivers’ culture and identity.

The decals, flowers and religious symbols hanging from these mirrors are more than ornaments. They are expressions of each driver’s individuality. Saliba’s camera always catches the reflection of the driver’s gaze in the mirror, underlining that these mementos are theirs, and no one else’s. Whether the driver is Muslim, Druze or Christian is not the point. Each and every one of them projects the driver’s identity onto their tools of trade.

Painter and video artist Rima Saab expresses her memories of Beirut via an exhibition of mixed-media paintings. Saab targets walls, suggesting these architectural structures are martyrs of the city’s destruction and war. “Windows with posters” (120x130 cm) mixes oil painting and digital techniques, a combination of media that adds a sense of the here and now to her work. We can see cracked windows surrounded by torn posters on a crumbled wall. Saab’s work radiates intense feelings of destruction and collapse. Like a living diary, walls bear permanent witness to a city’s annihilation. They embody Beirut’s collective memory and their abominable state renders a profound sense of nostalgia – at least until they’re erased by developers.

“Fragile Moment” (120x130 cm) renders a woman standing in front of a decayed wall, covered with torn posters. This work (which combines oil painting and digital art) also provokes feelings of disorder and destruction. What immediately strikes the spectator about the work is the woman’s gaze – cold, sad and fragile. Yet what holds the viewer’s gaze is not the woman, but the martyred wall. This may be a way of showing that even though the city and its people are changing, the walls are still there, victims of a city’s transformation.

Photographer Elsie Haddad focused her lens on pre-war places. Her composition of four untitled photographs (25x25 cm each) reflects her interest in spaces caught between past and future, between stagnation and movement. Haddad’s photographs are not portraits but snapshots of body parts in forgotten places. Old tables, couches and a vintage ashtray can also be seen in her composition. The body parts in two of her photographs are not the principal subject, but possibly tools that illustrate that this pre-war place belongs to someone. That person’s identity is defined by his (or her) place, just as the space itself is defined by its owner.

What is captivating about Haddad’s art is that she is reconstructing an identity of her own through her work. With her photographs, she frames parts of a forgotten individuality, fragments of memory. Her art can be interpreted as snapshots of a fading identity that is slowly becoming isolated because of Beirut’s development.

“Beirut Past and Present” is bound to make viewers aware of the loss of the city’s cultural heritage and memory. “Beirut Past and Present” is at the Art Lounge until Feb. 13. For more information call 03-997-676.

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