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.
I have heard of creative block so many times, or what some call “the inability to reach inner creativity”. Every artist, writer, and creator at one time has caught this infection. Let us take a stroll to look at this obstacle that stops the person’s ability to reach their most valuable resource “CREATIVITY”.
Before we start, I want to share a story I like. Once upon a time long, long ago, in a faraway kingdom, there was, of course, a wicked king (Da). That king was, as we said wicked, and one day he ordered his soldiers to push a big bolder into the middle of the road to block it. As ordered the soldiers did as they were told, and a watch was placed out of sight to record the peoples´ reactions to the obstacle. A politician passed by the rock; he gave a speech “why does the government not do what is supposed to be done”? Another politician, this time pro government, also gave a speech “praising the wisdom of placing this bolder as it slows enemy movements.” A trader reached the rock and, as he and his merchandize couldn’t pass, he took another road and traded elsewhere. Another person reached the rock, started cursing and managed to go around it. At the end of the day, a peasant walking back to his house reached the blockage. After examining it, he grabbed his tool and started breaking it. He worked all night and managed to reopen the road. The king´s men who were watching grabbed him and took him to the king, “Why did you open the road?” said the king, “Because I wanted to go home” said the peasant, thinking that he is going to be punished. But the king said, “this is what I need, a person who acts and does not give speeches” and made the peasant his grand vizir.
Back to the creative block, the monster that freaks everyone. As we all know, life is not easy; even if you are filthy rich, you still have to make decisions. Imagine you are a struggling artist, with prices going up, and an art market that is harder to break into by than catching a fly with chopsticks. Stress is the killer of creativity; stress to perform, stress to make ends meet.
Stress can be triggered by fear: “I am not good enough”, or an outer fear “why they are selling, and I am not”. Fear of criticism; “are they going to love my work?”. Fear of not delivering; “this piece is never going to be finished” or “how am I going to finish this?” Social media adds salt to the wounds; “Oh look at that, this is much better than mine”, “how can they paint so fast?”, and the peak of fear is when someone´s work you consider “bad” sells at a high price. You start doubting yourself; “what I am doing wrong?”. Comparing our lives or our works to others is human, but the road to eternal torment. Every human is as unique as their fingerprints; comparing works of art is blasphemous, because even if two works resemble each other, the emotion and the motive are so different.
So, how do we remove the block? I am not a psychiatrist, but through my experience I can say; change your routine. Simply, in the words of LaFontaine, “soyez toujours chacun pour l’autre un monde nouveau” - “Always be for each other a new world”. What I mean is, surprise yourself by doing something you have never done before. A small change can lead to great things. Learn from space; a small percussion by a man-made object of 610kg changed the course of an asteroid 160 meters in diameter and weighing as much as the Great Pyramid of Giza. Once you start chipping away at that block, you will see it can be easily moved. You are the peasant in the story, don’t give up - just start digging out of the routine.
We are a European/Lebanese run art space in Valencia, Spain.
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