Rebirth: Lebanon 21st century contemporary art - Exhibition

17 July, 2011 § 0

The concept of rebirth seems as old as birth itself. It’s as if Man fell so in love with life the minute he set eyes on the world that the idea of it having an end was unfathomable.

In ancient Egypt the scarab was a sign of eternal renewal and reemergence of life. The Ouroboros, the snake devouring its own tail, is an ancient symbol of eternal recurrence, representing cycles that begin anew as soon as they end.

But I believe the Phoenicians were the greatest visionaries of all. For them to have created the legend of the phoenix, they must’ve long predicted the fate of their own land, the fate of Lebanon, the embodiment itself of rebirth. And we love to prove our ancestors right. We love to watch it smolder to ashes and then fight our way up again. We even brag about it. But the eternal return of Lebanon, as heroic as it may be, isn’t as admirable as it sounds. We do rise after each fall but we lose parts of ourselves each time and we’re losing track of the essence of it all. We worry only about the “eternal” part and not about the “return”. We want to burn and be reborn again because we don’t know how else to do things. And we’ve sadly managed to turn the heroic into the horrific. But I digress.

I visited ‘Rebirth: Lebanon 21st Century Contemporary Art’ yesterday, an exhibition of works by 49 contemporary Lebanese artists, on the theme of rebirth and it got me thinking about the above amongst many other things. Nothing like art to provoke thought really.

Zena El Khalil, famous for glitter and pink and small army men, kind of illustrates the degradation of Lebanon in a series of paintings representing 10 pages torn out of a Nadine magazine. What better way to portray the dying rebirth of a nation than what actually interests this same nation? (I'm sorry no picture available!)

The theme, although handled by Lebanese artists wasn’t only about Lebanon. Rebirth happens to each and every one of us every single day. One of the simplest yet very striking paintings in the exhibition for me was this one. As the artist, Hanibal Srouji, describes it: Rebirth is a positive meditation space.

Another set of paintings I greatly enjoyed is one by Tagreed Darghouth. As I recall they were called ‘Rainbow’ and portrayed different skulls each on a different color of the rainbow. Apparently the term was used by England as a code name for nuclear projects. According to the bible the rainbow come after the flood and is a sign of rebirth. Was the use of this word accidental or can these weapons of mass destruction also lead to rebirth?

Zena Assi’s beautiful Ya Beirut Ya Sett Aldouniah is also a very touching painting. As she puts it: “Beirut is known in the flimsy and delicate state of pregnancy, almost bent in two but still standing on her feet, clinging to life and hope.” A very poignant image full of details and small cityscapes collaged into the belly of a mother giving birth through rebirth.

I won’t tell you about all 49 artists of the exhibition because I really think you should go check it out. They are all unmistakably beautiful, expressive and thought-provoking.

Also check the Beirut Exhibition Center website. They’re doing a great job and the exhibition space is also very well thought out.

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