BEIRUT: Lebanon's National Heritage Day may have passed on May 18 with less fanfare than it deserved, but those who still want to celebrate the best of the country's rich cultural history have another two more days to do so. "Ne au Liban" ("Born in Lebanon") is an exhibition currently on view at Planet Discovery, the children's science museum-turned-fine art venue next to the Starco Center in Downtown Beirut. The show is a round-up of famous, and famously successful, Lebanese living for the most part abroad. The point is to give children a strong set of role models to look up to, admire and emulate in their lives.
Among the 16 people honored in the show are Maher Attar, a photographer who was born in Beirut in 1963 and has worked with Agence France Presse, Sygma, The New York Times, Le Figaro and Time; classical musician Abdel Rahman al-Bacha, born in Beirut in 1958; Michael Debakey, a celebrated surgeon who was born in 1906 and emigrated to the US when he was two; businessman Jacques Saade; music-for-film composer Gabriel Yared, whose list of collaborators includes Jean-Luc Godard and Anthony Minghella; K-Maro, a Quebecois rapper with a penchant for fur who was born Cyril Kamar in Beirut in 1980; and Milan-based furniture designer William Sawaya.
Then there are the irrefutable stars - Lebanon's beloved diva Fairouz, fashion designer Elie Saab, basketball player Roni Saikali, novelist Amin Maalouf and, of course, the voice of America's Top 40 countdown, Casey Kassem.
But given the practical local application of the saying "money talks, bull**** walks," the rest of the personalities given their due in this show are heavy-hitting white-collar corporate success stories - Occidental Petroleum CEO Ray Irani, Swatch's Nicolas Hayek, Nissan and Renault superstar Carlos Ghosn and Hollywood producer Mario Kassar, who has given to the world "Rambo," "Terminator" (1, 2, 3 and 4), "Total Recall," Lisa Bonet in "Angel Heart," "Showgirls," "Basic Instinct" (1 and 2) and that fine futuristic clunker, "Stargate."
The show has a definite educational and informational bent, with the story of each historic figure told through vintage photographs and posters, memorabilia and artifacts, in addition to explanatory texts in French and Arabic.
"Ne au Liban" was organized by the National Heritage Foundation (NHF), a non-governmental, non-profit organization established in 1996. Supported almost entirely by voluntary contributions, the NHF works in tandem with the Ministry of Culture and was responsible, among other noteworthy achievements, for the impressive renovation of the National Museum and, more recently, the creation of the Terbol Ecomuseum in the Bekaa.
The first National Heritage Day was celebrated in 1998. It has since become a calendar fixture, held on the third Thursday of every May.
What links the personalities on show at Planet Discovery may be tinged with a bit of troubling nationalism, and the show may be, in fact, a celebration of Lebanon's brain drain more than anything else. But at a time when quality statesmen (and stateswomen) are nowhere to be found in the country's political life, this exhibition offers children an alternative source of heroes and mentors.
"Ne au Liban" is on view at Planet Discovery on Omar Daouk Street in Downtown Beirut through May
28. For more information, please call +961 1 980 650