Cultural creative syncretism
From the land of St George...
Our latest exhibition (in collaboration with De Souza and Arneli Art Galleries) features the work of emerging and established artists from Lebanon and Syria. The name is a play on the geographical origins of St George himself. Many place his birthplace as being somewhere on the eastern Mediterranean coast, although the exact location is a mystery. The saint’s most famous accomplishment was, of course, the slaying of a dragon, hence the irony of artists from his possible homeland coming to a house of the dragon.
Lebanon and Syria are well known to most of us, but often not for the right reasons, and the art from these fascinating countries are rarely represented outside of the Middle East. As a gallery with roots in both east and west, we are proud of our Middle Eastern heritage and connections and are delighted to be able to bring some of the exciting talent from the region to a wider audience. Contemporary art from Lebanon and Syria is breathtakingly diverse, ranging from modern interpretations of the traditional to the experimental and sometimes shocking. The artists participating in this exhibition represent this heterogeneous breadth of practice.
Working in digital media in countries with less than reliable electricity supply almost seems like an artistic statement in itself. Digital art has a flexibility in form that is lacking in more traditional media. While artists Jihad Kiame and Amr Fahed approach the medium very differently – focusing on the urban versus the human – their work simultaneously engages and challenges the viewer. Painters Dzovig Arnelian (who is also the tireless and talented owner of Arneli Art Gallery) and Johnny Seeman both use a classic genre – the figurative – but in divergent ways. Arnelian’s work is boldly intimate, strongly feminist at times, disturbing in its uncompromising realness. Seeman, on the other hand, is a painter who draws deeply on abstraction, his almost ethereal compositions having a strange sense of disconnectedness
The work of conceptual artist Rahih Khalil is highly thought-provoking. The exhibition features work from three of his series - abstracts, heads, and Ovoidales – providing both a retrospective and an insight into his current practice. Each resonates very differently; from war to birth, Khalil paints in an incredibly intellectual and intelligent way. He has developed a painting style which simultaneously expresses intimate emotions, sexual desire and metaphysical thoughts which, combined with his passion for literature and philosophy, have added another dimension to his experimentation, leading to his manifesto on a form of non-existing art: the Art Sans Medium (ASM) or Art Without Medium.
The sculpture of Noura Bakkar is uncompromisingly – sometimes shockingly - direct. Exploring the idea of identity, bodies, and the idea of beauty in contrast to her own conservative background, Bakkar pulls no punches in her sensually controversial work. Seen through a female gaze examining the pressures put upon women to conform, she manages to make the ugly beautiful, challenging our notions of normal and/or desirable.
Joanna Raad is an educator and artist whose whimsical work evokes memory. Using drawing as her predominate technique – a medium that is too often neglected - she creates densely rich visual diaries bursting with color. The almost child-like feeling of her art is balanced by the often darker undertones of her subject matter, which veers from the deeply personal to the societal.
In the calligraphy of Abdulrahman Naanseh we see the old and the new come together, Naanseh drawing on the traditional yet in a contemporary way. Playfully manipulating text, and using a palette of interesting color combinations, organic materials and surfaces, he breaks the classical norms of Arabic lettering to create a unique contemporary language which expresses his inner world.
Iman Toufaily and Manar Ali Hassan create collages which are narratives of contemporary Lebanon. Toufaily portrays the experience of being a veiled woman in the modern world; sensitively beautiful pieces, a delicate marriage of photography and textiles. Ali Hassan, who is a talented and renowned curator as well as an artist, has produced Ode to Beirut, a series of work referencing the August 4 explosion. These works, almost intangibly fragile, are full of distortions, as objects fall into time and space, collapsing into themselves.
Krikor Avessian is a mixed media artist who creates intriguing abstract 3-dimensional work presenting different realities. He draws upon a range of thought-provoking themes, often using playful imagery. Disorder of Mousa is an intricate series of pieces, which pull the viewer into a microscopic inner world of texture and color.
All of these artists show us that the artistic heart of the Middle East beats very strongly. Although these two countries are mired in political and economic upheaval, art continues to thrive, a way for people to process, narrative and escape from reality. Chaos, disruptive and painful as it is, also breeds a beautiful creativity.
The exhibition will run until October 30 at the Casa del Dragon in Cervera del Maestre, Castellon. Many thanks to De Souza Gallery for hosting and curating, and Arneli Art Gallery for partnering with us over the last year.
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