Lightning strikes twice for artist

Sulahian and Kelekian pose before Sulahian's acrylic-on-canvas piece “Colorful Medley of Olympic Harmony.” (Photo courtesy of Lena Kelekian)

BEIRUT: It’s not so rare for artists to marry. It is unusual for the lightning bolt of artistic success to strike twice.

That is exactly what happened at the competition around the “Creative Cities Collection,” the fine arts exhibition staged around the London 2012 Olympics, which saw Lebanese artist Lena Kelekian and architect/artist Hagop Sulahian (her husband) both win gold medals for their respective work.

One of the several fine arts and cultural activities staged to run in parallel with the London Olympiad, the “Creative Cities Collection” gathered more than 500 international works, selected from some 15,000 entries.

This isn’t the first time a fine art exhibition ran concurrently with the Olympics. The inaugural event took place four years ago, during the Beijing Olympics.

At the time, the exhibition was themed “Colors and the Olympics.”

This year’s event, which ran Aug. 1-7 at London’s Barbican Center, was organized along the theme “The Great China Wall and the River Thames Embrace the World.”

This theme, as Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming remarked at the exhibition’s opening ceremony, was meant to refer to an “Olympic cultural journey that explores from Beijing to London ... and from the Great Wall to the River Thames.”

This was Sulahian’s first Olympic-related gold medal. For Kelekian, however, it was the second. She also took gold and the Olympic Torch at Beijing for her painting “Planet Earth in the 21st Century.”

This makes Kelekian the only artist from the Arab world to win gold for her art at two consecutive Olympiads.

The organizing Committee for the Olympic Fine Arts 2012 created an international jury to vet the thousands of entries submitted for this year’s event. The jury was comprised of representatives from the U.N., the International Olympic Committee, the Culture Ministry of the Peoples Republic of China, the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, the Greater London Authority, as well as eminent art theorists and critics.

This was the body that selected Kelekian’s mixed-media work “Meandering Harmony in Progress” as well as Sulahian’s acrylic-on-canvas piece “Colorful Medley of Olympic Harmony” for this year’s show.

The Daily Star attempted to reach Qin Ying, one of an undisclosed number of curators for the 2012 event, to flesh out some of the criteria for the selection process and the parameters of the competition leading up to the awarding of medals, however Qin could not be reached before this article went to press.

In the briefing document she composed for her work, Kelekian described her painting as representing the Great Wall of China and the River Thames “taking us on a historical journey along architectural landmarks, embracing around the Olympic Stadium, depicting all the Olympic disciplines.”

Scrutinizing Kelekian’s work, observers may notice an abstract design joining to form the Olympic rings, symbolizing unity and harmony.

Sulahian’s work is also concerned with harmony. Thick layers of vividly colored paint protrude from the canvas. The Olympic rings are concealed in the middle of the piece, visible only when viewed from a distance – which is meant to represent the diversity of the Games.

“It is the concept of the work and the artistic quality that count, not the country,” Kelekian told The Daily Star in a phone interview, later saying that in the coming two months she will attend the Beijing and Seoul Biennales.

“We received the medals for Lebanon,” she said. “It is the best one you can ever have during such a historic event.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 24, 2012, on page 16.




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