The eighth edition of the Beirut Art Fair continues its committment to highlight the artistic scenes of Lebanon and the Arab world.

Ahead of its opening this Thursday 21 September 2017, Art Radar previews the fair and its creative offerings.

Fondation Boghossian, "Villa Empain", Belgium. Image courtesy Beirut Art Fair.

Fondation Boghossian, “Villa Empain”, Belgium. Image courtesy Beirut Art Fair.

This year’s Beirut Art Fair presents a huge selection of exhibitions, exclusive presentations, talks and new initiatives, taking place at the BIEL. With 51 galleries participating – including 29 first time participants – the fair promises to be an illuminating presentation of the contemporary art scene in Lebanon today.

As fair director, exhibition curator and former journalist Laure d’Hauteville explains that the fair’s main concern is to amplify the voices of artists working in Lebanon. The energy of Beirut’s contemporary art scene can be seen in the network of historical and emerging galleries on show at the fair this year. It is the fair’s aim to export much of this work beyond Lebanese borders, by focusing their centrepiece exhibition on Lebanese collections.

Ghazi Baker, "Detail of a Painting", Untitled, Acrylic, Pastel and Oil on Cotton Canvas, 180 x 130 cm, Image courtesy Mark Hachem, Lebanon.

Ghazi Baker, ‘Detail of a Painting, Untitled’, acrylic, pastel and oil on cotton canvas, 180 x 130 cm. Image courtesy Mark Hachem, Lebanon.

Created in 2010, the 2016 edition of the fair aimed to streamline its offering, focusing on the fair’s quality and reputation. As a result, the fair is “a stronger and more assertive platform”, says d’Hauteville,

able to meet the expectations of a new generation of regional and international art lovers and collectors. Discovery and rediscovery are the pillars on which the identity of this fresh, energetic, one-of-a-kind fair is founded. Beirut Art Fair offers a singular space characterized by a degree of freedom of expression and cultural diversity unmatched in the region, helping it to highlight and promote the specificities of the Middle East’s vibrant creative art scene.

As a result, this year presents a previously unseen selection of galleries and exhibitions focusing on the region, including one tied to the notion of Arab identity:

The focus of the 2017 edition of BEIRUT ART FAIR is threefold: to foster a spirit of expansion and renewal, to promote the discovery of young talents, and to unfold a new perspective on the recent history of creation and collecting in Lebanon. For the second consecutive year, in both its main section and in REVEALING, BEIRUT ART FAIR has opted to use greater selectivity in its choices, in an effort to better meet the expectations of collectors, galleries and influencers.
Chaouki Chamoun, "Sprouting and Blooming Sand; a Tale in the Making", acrylic on canvas, 165.5 x 250 cm. Image courtesy Mark Hachem, Lebanon.

Chaouki Chamoun, ‘Sprouting and Blooming Sand; a Tale in the Making’, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 165.5 x 250 cm. Image courtesy Mark Hachem, Lebanon.

1. “Ourouba, The Eye of Lebanon”

The exhibition “Ourouba, The Eye of Lebanon” (PDF download) is curated by London-based expert Rose Issa, and reflects the aesthetic and socio-political concerns of the Arab world over the last decade. The exhibition explores the notion of contemporary “Arabicity” – Arab identity – through themes relating to memory, destruction and reconstruction, conflict and peace, particularly felt in the wake of 9/11. Much of the work on display has been loaned from important art collections in and around Lebanon, questioning how artists from the region, many of them secular, “express, offset or avoid the turbulence, corruption, humiliation and surveillance so present in their daily lives”.

Othmane Taleb, "Le passage des anges I", 2017, Diptych, Graphite, pastel on Canson paper, 70 x 50 cm. Image courtesy Hajer Azzouz Art -La maison de la plage, Tunisia

Othmane Taleb, ‘Le Passage des Anges I’, 2017, diptych, graphite, pastel on canson paper, 70 x 50 cm. Image courtesy Hajer Azzouz Art – La Maison de La Plage, Tunisia.

As Issa comments,
Since 2001, Arab societies have been powerless witnesses to violent events which have brought not only chaos in their midst, but also the frightening extension, on a scale both national and international, of a terrorism purporting to be ‘Islamic.’ The disintegration of the Arab world, with its succession of violence, war and the pillaging of historical sites in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Libya and Lebanon, has led to a sense of collective urgency which directs creative minds of the region to reflect even more intensely on life – on its resilience and beauty – despite the surrounding mental and physical chaos.

Thus, “Ourouba, The Eye of Lebanon” gives visitors the opportunity to consider artworks and acquisitions that address these issues, through installation, painting, photography, video and sculptural works that Issa has personally selected by visiting over 20 public and private collections in Lebanon. The exhibition is made up of works by 39 artists, some whose work lives solely in private, rather than public, collections. In this sense, the exhibition also narrates how different Arab artists create their artistic identities through the ultimate setting of their finished pieces, highlighting the various routes and challenges that their work faces, as they reveal personal journeys, research and aesthetic choices.

Elene Usdin, "Olga after Zarraga", Acrylic on inkjet print photography, 2016, 81 x 81 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff, France.

Elene Usdin, ‘Olga After Zarraga’, 2016, acrylic on inkjet print photography, 81 x 81 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff, France.


In its second iteration, the Beirut Art Fair presents “Revealing”, a platform which showcases and supports emerging artists based in Lebanon. The exhibition promotes young artists from the ME.NA. region, in the hope that they will be “discovered” and noticed by collectors attending the fair. Each gallery showcases one promising artist. Select highlights include the work of Camille Leherpeur, which deals with ideas of “unboxing”, performance staging, creating objects that shy away from the academicism of contemporary art.

Camille Leherpeur, "The palace", 2015, Inkjet print on fabric, 280 x 200 cm, Image courtesy Archiraar gallery, Belgium

Camille Leherpeur, ‘The Palace’, 2015, inkjet print on fabric, 280 x 200 cm. Image courtesy Archiraar gallery, Belgium

Leherpeur shows with Brussels-based Archiraar Gallery, an unusual gallery in that is has two spaces – a white cube and a black cube. One a conventional space to show art, the other a complementary, enclosed space which opened in 2014 and suggests a more intimate relationship with the work on display.

Tom Young, "Asphyxiated City (West)", 2017, oil on canvas 180 x 250 cm. Image courtesy Artspace Hamra, Lebanon

Tom Young, ‘Asphyxiated City (West)’, 2017, oil on canvas, 180 x 250 cm. Image courtesy Artspace Hamra, Lebanon.

Another highlight from “Revealing” is Tom Young, showing with gallery and multidisciplinary space Artspace Hamra, which supports modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art. As the gallery states, through thematic residences and cultural events, their ambition is “to initiate a dialogue among cultures and promote awareness of Middle Eastern art both locally and globally”.
Based between Beirut and London, Young trained as an architect, meaning that his work is informed by ideas surrounding light and space. Flicking, scraping, wiping and slashing thick impasto oil paint over his canvases, Young explains:
I’m interested in blurring the boundaries between realism and abstraction, and the paradox of capturing a sense of time in a still image. I explore the symbolism of narrative motifs such as carousels, suggesting dramatic contrasts in the city and the coexistence of pain and joy. I use motifs such as these to suggest childhood memories, the collective amnesia that often happens during and after challenging events and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
Manal Mahamid, "Fine Dust", 2017, Video Art on loop, 8min20. Image courtesy Gallery One, Palestine

Manal Mahamid, ‘Fine Dust’, 2017, video on loop, 8:20 min. Image courtesy Gallery One, Palestine.

Another key artist to watch in the exhibition is Palestinian artist Manal Mahamid, showing with Gallery One. Mahamid earned a degree in Museology and Curation from the University of Tel Aviv, and now works across media including video, installation, painting and photography. Her work “reassesses linear understandings of time, whilst making a hopeless attempt to pin down the ephemeral existence of all things”. Her work is intrinsically bound up in her Palestinian identity, as she attempts to combat narratives that negate the existence of Palestine and Palestinians. Shortlisted for the A.M Qattan Young Artist of the Year Award in 2002, in 2007 she was the recipient for Delfina Foundation’s Resident Artist Award as part of the Riwaq Biennale.

Carla Barchini, "Balance", 2017, Mixed Media on Wood, 99 x 132 cm. Image courtesy Espace Jacques Ouaiss, Lebanon

Carla Barchini, ‘Balance’, 2017, mixed media on wood, 99 x 132 cm. Image courtesy Espace Jacques Ouaiss, Lebanon.

3. “Food Art by Bankmed Lemons and Rainbows”

Adding a little lightheartedness to the fair, also on show is this playful, collaborative exhibition which brings together food and art, commenting on the relationship between artistic formation and culinary creation. Work by selected artists including Hala Audi Baydoun, Joseph El Khoury and Raffi Tokatlian. As Nelly Zeidan Choucair, who curates the exhibition, explains, the presentation has been developed around the theme of juicing – “in which drinking becomes a synonym for eating – focused on lemons, the Mediterranean fruit par excellence”.

René Groebli, "L’oeil de l’amour", # 532, L’oeil de l’amour series, 1953 platinum-palladium print, 40 x 50 cm, edition of 7. Image courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff, France

René Groebli, ‘L’Oeil de l’Amour’, # 532 from “L’Oeil de l’Amour” series, 1953, platinum-palladium print, 40 x 50 cm, edition of 7. Image courtesy Galerie Esther Woerdehoff, France.

Food art unites creators of multiple backgrounds and viewpoints for whom food nourishes the subconscious and the imagination. The varied consistencies, colours and flavours of food serve also as a foundation for works of art in their own right. Food’s perishable nature means that each piece of food a acquires an element of ephemerality. One’s manner of consumption is also a reflection of one’s way of life and of one’s ideas, of one’s mode of organisation and one’s politics. Curator Nelly Zeidan Choucair playfully ask:
So, would you like a piece of contemporary art?

Anna Jamieson


Related Topics: Lebanese artistsmarket watchart fairevents in Lebanonart scene in Lebanon

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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